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Thank you so much Kit, Mayor Nickels, Admiral Garrett, Bill Barnet and everyone from the First African Methodist Episcopal Child and Family Center. I’m delighted to be here today with First Book and all of you to help kids begin a lifetime of reading and learning.

I’ve supported First Book for years because I know what a difference it makes for children to have books of their own. Some of my best memories are of evenings spent with my two children, reading to them, and later, listening as they read to me. In fact, I’ve saved some of those books and today those are the ones I love to read to my grandson. But we know that many children don’t have access to books, much less books of their own.

In fact, more than 60% of low-income families in America have no books in their homes for their children. Here in Washington, over 200,000 children are living in poverty. These families are struggling to pay the bills, put food on the table, and make ends meet. Books are just too big of a luxury for many of these families to afford. But research shows that books are not a luxury. They’re absolutely essential for children to get the literacy skills they need to succeed.

The average middle class child is exposed to 1,000 to 1,700 hours of one-on-one picture book reading before entering school. But the average low-income child is only exposed to 25 hours of one-on-one reading. These kids start school behind and often never catch up.

That’s why I’m so proud of what First Book is doing – in partnership with the Coast Guard, local Advisory Boards, and companies like Scholastic. In the past two years alone, First Book has provided almost 15 million books to children in hundreds of communities nationwide. Here in Washington state, the impact is tremendous. Our state has more volunteer-led, local Advisory Boards than any other state.

I was proud to secure half-a-million dollars to strengthen these Advisory Boards and to start new ones to help reach more children especially in rural areas. To help get this expansion off to a great start, Scholastic has donated 200,000 new books to First Book.

I want to commend Scholastic for its leadership. I also want to thank the U.S. Coast Guard for being such a great partner to First Book and for providing the warehouse space and talented volunteers to make distributions like this one possible.

I’m proud to continue my support for First Book and to focus on getting new books to needy children living in Washington State. Through organizations like First Book, we can truly make a difference by introducing children to the magic of reading.