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Cleveland mom vows to spend summer giving away free books: 'I'm scared there is going to be something called the summer corona slide'

Chrishawndra Matthews, founder of the nonprofit Literacy in the HOOD (Helping Out Our Disenfranchised), is laser focused on improving literacy for low-income kids.

CLEVELAND — Ending the school year at home, and the typical summer brain drain, has many parents worried about the academic impact on their kids.

"Now I'm scared there is going to be something called the summer corona slide," says Chrishawndra Matthews, a mom and literacy advocate.

Recent research from the Collaborative for Student Growth projects students will return to school in the fall with only 70 percent of their typical reading growth. That's why Matthews is laser focused on helping families understand the importance of reading. She's the founder of the nonprofit Literacy in the HOOD. The letters for HOOD standing for "Helping Out Our Disenfranchised."

Matthews plans to spend the summer giving out free books to families at events in Cleveland's inner-city neighborhoods.

“With COVID-19, everybody was pushing screen time so now we're trying to push some carpet time, and just me and you and some reading,” Matthews says.

She's speaking while spending a few hours at a drive-thru food giveaway at the Garden Valley Neighborhood House at E. 71st and Kinsman. She’s giving away Kathleen Stefancin's book “Molly the Monkey Finds a Pineapple," the nutrition game Food Pyramid Bingo and popsicles. These materials are priced between $26 and $46 -- and thanks to Matthews, families are receiving them for free.

“It's really about how do we get the books in the parents, in the children's hand and how do we help them understand why we should be reading 15 to 20 minutes a day,” says Matthews. “They want these books.”

Wearing a shirt with the text “investing in minds one book at a time," Matthews is the ambassador on the ground making sure inner-city families get free books.

“I’m one of them,” says Matthews. “I look like them. I got a son that look like their children. My son looks like their grandchildren, but more importantly I’m able to meet them where they are.”

Matthews, who in addition to running her nonprofit works another job to support herself and her son, says she believes her efforts will produce the change she wants to see in the community.

A 2008 study included in the Family and Community Engagement Research Compendium showed that children who receive and read free books during the summer experience the equivalent of attending three years of summer school, and show higher fall reading test scores.

“Just stay reading so when your children go back to school, they can still be reading on their same reading level,” says Matthews’ 9-year-old son, Derrick Smith. “It's going to be alright for them if they keep on reading.”

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Matthews often has her son by her side to help give away books. She says Derrick started reading at the age of 3, but she couldn’t find adequate reading resources or programs to continue to develop his reading skills when she lived in the city. Therefore, it became her mission to make sure the children of Cleveland have books to read in their home.

According to the Kids’ Book Bank, two out of three low-income kids don’t own a single book.

“I’m the type of mom that buys books, but then learning that the other moms in the community, how do they get books?” says Matthews. “How do they have access to books? So that’s why Literacy in the HOOD was created.”

Matthews passes out free books because of donations to her nonprofit. This year she’s hoping to secure additional funding for Literacy in the HOOD, and to acquire a van to transport and give away books throughout the community.

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