As the clock strikes 11 a.m. on Wednesday and eager parents skip through the poster-covered doors into the familiar room, a rush of excitement and motivation washes over them. To their left, tales of brave knights and terrifying dragons are situated under an autumn-decorated wall. To their right, stories of fascinating scientific discoveries and heroic historical figures are stacked in multi-colored bins.
Without hesitation, each parent takes their time scanning the shelves that span the perimeter of the room, taking note of each genre, title and author, determined to put a smile on their little ones’ faces. Children going to the right and decent nurseries is crucial.
A few hours prior, they dropped their children off at school and a few hours later, they will be coming home with five new permanent additions to their libraries.
The Cops ‘n’ Kids Children’s Literacy Program in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, is a nonprofit organization that’s mission is to connect children with their community through literacy. By providing free books and events to children who otherwise wouldn’t have access to them, promoting positive relationships between children and police officers and organizing a vast network of volunteers, Cops ‘n’ Kids provides indispensable opportunities for children and families living below the poverty line within the Lehigh Valley.
“Everything we do matters, and every single thing we do here is free,” said Beverly Bradley, president and chairperson of the organization. “Everyone is welcome.”
Each time a child visits the Cops ‘n’ Kids reading room — located on the fourth floor of the Northampton Community College Fowler Family Southside Center and open on Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. — they are allowed to take home five books to keep, said Bradley.
Kate Tren, a mother of two children who frequently picks out books at the Reading Room, said the organization has impacted her family in both an economical and educational way.
“I think it has a really big impact on me because I don’t think I would be able to afford to buy as many books for my girls as I would get here,” Tren said.
Because of all of the books that Tren’s family has been able to take home, she said that her oldest daughter has become an avid reader and is now in the top reading level in her grade.
In addition to providing children with free books, Cops ‘n’ Kids also hosts free events on various Saturdays throughout the year that promote creative learning. On these days, outside organizations come to the Reading Room to put on animal shows, puppet shows, musical performances, theater workshops and more.
Diane Karp, one of the Reading Room coordinators, said she believes the Saturday events allow children to broaden their experiences, which will benefit them in the long run.
“As a retired first-grade teacher, I’ve always told parents that the more experiences you can give to your child, the more successful they will be,” Karp said. “The more background they have, the more appreciation they will have.”
Last summer, Cops ‘n’ Kids held 21 free events. For any child who attended at least 10 of the events, Bradley said the organization bought that child a brand new book from Barnes and Noble.
“We wrap it for them and they think they’re getting an Academy Award,” Bradley said. “It’s magnificent.”
At one event, in particular, Bradley recalls a mother who asked to speak with her out in the hallway.
“She said to me, ‘You know my three daughters have been to every one of your events,’ and I told her, ‘Yes I do know that,’” Bradley said. “And then she said, ‘Well I know you’re helping them, but today I added up how much they took in books from each of your events and it is worth over $150.’ She then touched my arm and said, ‘That’s food money and that’s rent money, so although you’re helping them, you’re helping us as a family, and I want you to know that. This is a gift from God.’”
Although the organization is primarily focused on providing underprivileged children access to literature, another huge component of Cops ‘n’ Kids is, in fact, cops. One of the many missions of the program is to promote positive relationships between police officers and children, as some may otherwise view them in a negative light.
Allentown Police Chief Glenn Granitz Jr. has been involved with the program for the past seven years, and said he believes Cops ‘n’ Kids provides police officers with the unique opportunity to interact with children and families in a setting that is much more positive than the one they’re usually given.
“It really works to make sure there are opportunities for us to interact with children, and it gets them to see us as human beings instead of just someone in a uniform telling them what to do, or arresting someone,” Granitz said.
Granitz, who worked as a homicide detective earlier on in his career, said being involved in the program has helped to make him a little more positive after being in a position where he’s seen first-hand what people are capable of doing to one another.
“Cops ‘n’ Kids is that friendly reminder when you need it that there are so many good people in the world,” Granitz said.
Though the organization has seen tremendous success since its establishment in 2003, including being the recipient of numerous local and national awards, perhaps its biggest achievement is that as of Aug. 2019 it has distributed over one million free books to children. And while that is a huge accomplishment for a local nonprofit, Bradley said none of it would have been possible without its vast network of hardworking volunteers.
Cops ‘n’ Kids volunteers range from young high school students to senior citizens, and each has a unique role to play in the operation of the program.
In addition to the volunteers’ help at book drives and various other events throughout the year, many high school and college student volunteers accompany Bradley to intercity schools around the Lehigh Valley to read to those children. At the same time, many older volunteers spend hours sorting through books and placing labels inside each book that states the name of the person who donated the book, as well as the date it was donated.
“Our volunteers give a lot of time out of their day, and we have some that don’t miss a Wednesday,” Karp said. “I don’t know how we would do this without the help of our volunteers. (Bradley) goes out into the community, but it all comes back to here where our volunteers keep everything running.”
Meghan Hughes, a junior at Emmaus High School, has been a volunteer over the past two years through her involvement in her school’s Key Club, a partner of Cops ‘n’ Kids.
Over the years, Hughes has helped to organize numerous book drives, volunteered at many Cops ‘n’ Kids sponsored events and has traveled to various local schools to deliver books.
“Going there and seeing how much of an impact that bringing a book to these kids has, is very eye-opening and rewarding,” Hughes said. “It’s opened my eyes and has made me want to help even more, and get more involved in Cops ‘n’ Kids, so we can give back to the children and the community.”
After 16 years of serving the community, the positive effect that the award-winning nonprofit has on everyone involved in its production still manages to surprise Bradley.
“I never imagined in my wildest dreams that this would happen, but every book to me has a life attached to it, and that life is either on the giving end, on the receiving end, or both, hopefully,” Beverly said. “And in both senses, we make the community better.”