People Who Move Us: Rebecca Constantino of Access Books

Access Books

“Give a child a book and (they’ll) be happy. Give a child a library and (they’ll) be literate.” – Rebecca Constantino, Founder & Executive Director of Access Books.

Rebecca Constantino is the Founder & Executive Director of Access Books. The non-profit organization provides quality books to public schools and libraries in communities where the majority of students live at or below poverty level. Since 1999, Access Books refurbished over 325 libraries and donated around 1.9 million books with volunteer help. Access Books also collaborates with partners to host fun, literacy experiences for students, schools and families in underserved communities.

Bound In Education, Language & Literacy

Access Books
Rebecca Constantino

Rebecca Constantino holds a Ph.D. in Language, Literacy and Learning. She published a book and over 100 articles about literacy development, equity in education, urban school and cultural perspectives of language acquisition. Having lived and worked in numerous countries, she was involved in language and literacy development programs in Russia, South Africa and Eastern Europe. She taught Language Acquisition and Reading courses at the University of California Los Angeles, University of California Irvine and Pepperdine University. Her favorite children’s book is Caps for Sale which she read with her children when they were young.  She now enjoys discussions on what they are individually reading. Two of her children are adopted and she was active in the foster care community for several years. Rebecca considers this an extension of her main mission in life: to support equity in families, schools and communities.

The Stories Of Access Books

According to Rebecca, the main benefit of founding Access Books is the opportunity to meet wonderful people from many areas of the Los Angeles community. Many are now her core group of friends. Rebecca believes everyone has a story. Volunteers include an aspiring artist from the eastside, a family from the westside, high school boys earning their service hours, a retired librarian, and a group of girls (alumni of the school served). After the day begins and things are moving, she likes to personally meet each volunteer. Often the common interest is literacy. She also meets donors who want no recognition, they just want to do good.

Access Books
Bundles of books.

Title Distribution

Within days of school closures due to COVID-19, Access Books pivoted to supply bundles of new books for underserved students. Working directly with schools, Access Books organized students by grade to ensure they received a book bundle created especially for them. Along with current bestsellers, each bundle includes a multi-cultural title (reflecting their community) and a class-level title for teacher-led discussion. All books are high-quality and curriculum-supported. Additionally, multiple copies are provided so schools are able to host virtual book clubs.

The Printed Effect         

A refurbished school library.

Rebecca knows thousands of children have no access to books, which therefore deters students from connecting to their larger community. When she participates in distribution events, she hears students’ stories first-hand. Once Rebecca handed a 5th grade boy a book and he said, “I am so excited, I have not held a book since school got out” (which was almost 6 months before).  At another giveaway, a boy told her, I thought you forgot about me; now I know you did not.” 

After the refurbishment of an East Los Angeles library, Rebecca interviewed students to gauge their thoughts. All were eager to talk about the great books and how much they loved them. One boy stated, I like coming here because it feels like an art gallery. I feel special that this is my library and someone did this for me. I feel safe and happy here.”

Bookmarked Milestones                     

Access Books
An Access Books event.

Those deeply committed to the Access Books mission to participate and make change create a ripple effect that impacts thousands of children and hundreds of communities. Here are current statistics for Access Books, the total number (and growing):

  • Children served: 219,400
  • Libraries refurbished: 325 
  • Books distributed: 1,838,464

Turning A Page Into The Future

There is a great need for books and school libraries all over the country. Of course, COVID-19 brought challenges to refurbishing libraries and cataloging donated books. However, Rebecca builds on Access Books’ accomplishments, which attracts donors and volunteers — and ultimately positively affects children and communities. Access Books does have an active affiliate in Northern California, so Rebecca hopes that similar programs replicate nationwide. 

Get Involved with Access Books   

All images courtesy of Access Books.

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