DeKALB – Jayaditya Garikapati, 4, knows his letters and already is beginning to read.
Jayaditya, a preschooler enrolled at Two Rivers Head Start in Sycamore, has a personalized, handmade wooden bookcase complete with a new collection of books to help foster his love of reading.
He was one of 50 Head Start 3- to 5-year-olds who received gifts like that Saturday afternoon, courtesy of the DeKalb/Sycamore Bookcase Project. The nonprofit group hosted a special ceremony for the children at Faranda’s Banquet Center, where they each were given a two-shelf bookcase with their names engraved on an attached brass plate, as well as a box of between 35 and 40 books.
Jayaditya’s father, Mangaiah Garikapati, said his son was very excited to receive the new books and bookcase, which will be proudly displayed in the family’s living room.
“It’s awesome. He loves books and has been reading since he started at Head Start, and now I’m sure he’ll be reading even more,” Garikapati said. “The bookcase is something he’ll have for the rest of his life. It’s so special to have his name on it. As a parent, it gives me a good feeling to know my son will be best friends with books.”
Former DeKalb Mayor John Rey started the DeKalb/Sycamore Bookcase Project seven years ago, after learning of a similar program that began in Arkansas.
All the children were selected by Head Start staff to receive the wooden cases, which are handmade by community volunteers.
Rey emceed Saturday’s event and said the goal of the project is to increase preschool literacy.
“Having in-home reading resources really fosters a love of reading,” he said. “We want these kids to succeed and become contributing members of society, and reading is a basic skill that enhances the chances of success. And each child now has a quality piece of furniture that is all theirs.”
Roldan Espada of Cortland said his family had too many books but not enough room for all of them, so he was grateful his daughters, Angelina, 5, and Gianna, 3, were bringing home two new pieces of furniture.
“It’s very exciting for them, and it’s a nice gesture to give the kids the bookcases, especially with their names on them,” he said. “It’s something that they’ll have for years, and now we know we’ll always have books in our house.”
Taneica Mitchell of Sycamore said that she’s very appreciative of the bookcase her daughter, Chloe, 4, received. She said they plan to decorate it with butterflies and glitter.
“I know there was a lot of time and money invested in this,” Mitchell said. “She already likes to read, and this will help her read more often.
It also shows that the community cares. As a mom, I’m very thankful for a program like this and the ceremony they held today.”
Nneka Maduka, center supervisor at Two Rivers Head Start, said that the program is important to her students and their families because they don’t always have access to books at home.
“We want to promote early literacy because reading is a building block for success later in life,” she said. “The bookcase and books give the children a sense of ownership and responsibility. They feel prideful, and it boosts their self-esteem because this is just for them. It shows that the community cares about them and is supportive of them.”
Laurie Elish-Piper, dean of Northern Illinois University’s College of Education, was the keynote speaker at Saturday’s ceremony. She said access to books is a predictor of student achievement in school.
“Some families don’t have access to books in their homes, and this is a way we can make books available to children in our community,” she said. “I love to see all the kids dive right into their boxes and look at all of their new books.”