Exclusive interview with the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation

Barbara Bush meant much more for American people than just for her role as First Lady, as well as wife (and mother) of two American presidents. She is been an intelligent woman, she took care of the needs of others, and was always aware of the importance of literature in people’s development.

Writing, reading and everything about the world of books, can, in a way, improve people’s lives. Make it more precious and full. One of the most important legacy that Barbara Bush left to America (and the world) is been the promotion of literature in schools and families throughout the country.

That is why I am proud to present you this interview with the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation, a non-profit founded by Mrs. Bush son – Neil – and his wife Maria. Its goal is to promote literature in the texan city so much dear to Barbara and George Bush.

Neil and his mother, Barbara Bush.

I thank warmly Julie Baker Finck, President of the Foundation, for speaking with me on this matter.

Question: Tell us about the work and the goals of the Foundation.

Answer: The mission of the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation is to improve lives through the power of literacy — the ability to read, write and comprehend. Our primary goals are twofold:

(1) Every child in Houston enters kindergarten prepared to learn how to read and (2) Every child in Houston will read at or above grade level by the end of the third grade. Having every child reading proficiently by the end of the third grade is critically important, at is a key milestone in a child’s education when they are expected to transition from learning how to read to reading to learn.

Q: The Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation is only dedicated to the city of Houston, and I think this is wonderful. A local place to local people. How do you work around the city to improve literacy?

A: President George H. W. and Barbara Bush called Houston ‘home’ for more than 50 years. So, it was important to the family that they create a local foundation aimed at carrying forth her legacy interest in literacy and engaging the Houston community to increase literacy rates across our city.

Our work in the Houston area is focused on three key imperatives: helping parents be their child’s first and most important teacher; building home libraries for children; and providing children access to reading mentors.

Through partnerships with other nonprofits and school districts, we provide family literacy programs where parents and children learn to read together and parents learn strategies for building strong literacy skills of their child.

Neil and his wife, Maria, reads to children.

Books in the home is a critical factor in a child’s reading success. That is why we also have a program called My Home Library in which children can create a wish list of books they want to read and own, and members of the public can sponsor a child’s wish list with a donation.

We also have several reading mentorship programs in dozens of schools across Houston in which volunteers read to children on a weekly basis, in person or online, to accelerate their reading skills.

Q: Barbara Bush believed that every child in the country should be able not only to read, but to enjoy the very act of reading. What are been your feelings seeing the Houston’s children be able to do it thanks to the Foundation and the work did by Neil Bush and his wife Maria?

A: It has been overwhelming to witness the outpouring of support and how the Houston community has embraced the literacy cause of Mrs. Bush.

When a child or adult learns how to read, it is an indescribable feeling to watch. A whole new world opens up to them because they can read — they do better in school, can get better jobs and have a better, more fulfilled life. A feeling of pride and joy for their accomplishments and that we played a part in their success is humbling and very rewarding.

Barbara, Neil and Maria Bush.

Q: Reading can be also an act of sharing. We can think to the reading’s groups, but also to the very simple and natural act to talk with other people about a book we love. During your time and work at the Foundation you have memories about it that you want to share?

A: Each year, the Foundation hosts an event, called A Celebration of Reading, which Mrs. Bush personally designed. We have a line-up of national and international bestselling authors bring their books to life onstage and we also have a First Lady’s Book Club where we bring in an author to discuss their books a couple of times a year.

The act of reading and sharing stories together enable us to reflect on our own lives and to open our hearts and minds to others, forming and strengthening relationships in a very unique and powerful way.

I have read so many great books because people have recommended them to me, some of them outside of my comfort of genre, but it has enabled me to stretch my imagination and appreciate and love reading.

My husband, Ron, and I are both readers, and we love to talk about the books we have read and to recommend books to one another. We learn from each other and learn about each other in the process.

Q: Talking about numbers, how many children the Foundation helped from 2013?

A: Since the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation, we have helped more than 50,000 children through our various literacy programs.

Q: According to you, what is the most important legacy Barbara Bush leaved to us, and to the city of Houston?

A: Barbara Bush left an indelible legacy across our entire nation. She truly set the example for all of us about the importance of living a life of service to others. She loved her hometown of Houston, and Houston loved her back.

One of the most important legacy’s she left was instilling in our city the value and importance of learning how to read, and that having a city filled with readers is vital to our social and economic vitality.

She believed that everyone deserves an equal opportunity to live the American Dream, and that the path begins with learning how to read. Her legacy will continue forever through her Foundation.

Q: If you could describe the true meaning of the work of the Foundation in one sentence, which one would be?

A: Helping more people reach their fullest potential in life by learning how to read.

Barbara Bush reads to a children.

Q: George and Barbara Bush considered Texas and Houston not only a place where live, but their home. According to you, what was the bond that united them (and that still do) with the city?

A: The Bush family’s values were loyalty to faith, family and friends. They did so much to support the people of our city– for them to have better lives and brighter future –through raising millions of dollars to support charitable organizations and their leadership on important issues.

They were very visible in our city and impacted countless people through their random acts of kindness. It was the people of this city with whom they cared for and loved.

That is the bond that unites all of us and why their legacy will endure for generations to come.

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