Nestled in Northampton Community College’s Fowler Family Southside Center in South Bethlehem, the Cops ‘n’ Kids Reading Room is a quiet oasis for young book lovers.
More than 2,300 children visit the Reading Room every year, snuggling up with their favorite books on the comfy couches and chairs scattered around the room. Each child participating in the program takes home five free books to read again and again.
“If we can hook them on reading when they are young, it provides a strong foundation that helps guide them for life,” said Bev Bradley, president of Cops ‘n’ Kids Lehigh Valley.
When she retired from teaching after 30 years, Bradley was looking for a new project to keep occupied. She was introduced to Cops ‘n’ Kids Literacy Program, which encourages positive relationships between children and the police. The organization’s mission was a solid foundation on which to build a local community nonprofit.
“Our mission is to connect kids and the community through literacy. We want children to know that the community cares about them and their success,” said Bradley. “We couldn’t do this without the generous support from the community. It truly does take a village.”
Bradley started the local chapter in 2003 operating out of a spare bedroom, where she stored the books donated by individuals and businesses throughout the community.
With help from volunteers and the generous support of the community, books are distributed to children at school events throughout the year. Soon, the number of books outgrew the spare bedroom and Bradley was able to store the books in donated warehouse space.
The program has since evolved to include a storytelling series at the Reading Room that takes place every Wednesday. This year, Cops ‘n’ Kids celebrated a huge milestone: distributing more than 1 million books.
With neighbors that include a community medical center, a busy innovation lab for budding entrepreneurs and college classrooms, the Reading Room stands out as a special space that’s just for kids.
The bright yellow walls are decorated with quotes from classic children’s stories and lined with bookshelves that top out at 3 feet tall – eye level for little ones. The short bookshelves draw children in so they can take their pick from thousands of books donated by the community.
“When you look at spaces from a child’s perspective it can seem like the land of giants,” said Bradley. “We wanted to make sure that when children walk into this room, they feel that this place is just for them.”
Volunteers of all stripes from college students to retirees, police officers and area businesses – including PPL – help out when children come to hear a story, do crafts and pick out books to take home.
Themed story times such as “Our Firefighting Heroes” and “Keeping Us Safe”, where kids get a chance to meet Silver, Bethlehem Police Department’s K9 officer, are a big hit.
In addition to supporting Cops ‘n’ Kids’ summer learning program through a grant from the PPL Foundation, the company often partners with the organization for literacy focused volunteer events and donates books through the Cover to Cover initiative.