With Books in Hand …He works to Make Fathers & Mothers Good Role Models

Huwerl Thornton knows something about fatherhood.

And setting good examples.

And teaching and learning through books.

The 50-year-old has spent many years in classrooms, both as a student and then as an elementary school teacher for 14 years in New Haven. A champion of Read to Grow and its work for early childhood literacy, he’s now Youth Programs Coordinator for Connecticut Food Bank, which serves six of the state’s eight counties. He oversees its two special projects for young kids — the BackPack program and the GROW! Truck.                                                        

Read to Grow has been partnered with the GROW! Truck for four years. The truck—a large mobile food pantry—serves families with children in Head Start, giving them food, children’s books from Read to Grow, and workshops on topics ranging from childhood literacy to family-life management. Read to Grow staff gives the literacy workshops.      

“Being a black male and being a teacher and seeing how absent fathers are in so many children’s lives, I know how bad it is. Mothers are usually the rocks for the families. Fathers are so absent. If young boys can’t find role models in their homes, they’re going to start looking around in other places. They look out to the streets.”

Huwerl tries to make up for the holes in many young lives. He does it as a father and grandfather to his daughter’s two young girls, a 3-year-old and an 8-month-old. All three lived with him and his wife until recently. “Mistakes I realize I made with my own daughter, when she was young, I try not to do now. I don’t let TV fill the time. … I read to my granddaughter. I find books that tell her, ‘You’re not white, but you’re still beautiful’.”

Huwerl also fills the gaps by encouraging mothers who come for workshops and food provided by the GROW! Truck. He doles out free books from Read to Grow as they wait their turns outside the mobile pantry. “Make sure you have books around the house!” he calls out. “Turn off the TV!”

“The road to college attainment, higher wages and social mobility in the United States starts at birth,” says James Heckman, a Nobel-winning economist at the University of Chicago. “The greatest barrier to college education is not high tuitions or the risk of student debt; it’s in the skills children have when they first enter kindergarten.”

 (Taken from “Building Children’s Brains” by Nicholas Kristof, NY Times, June 2, 2016)

Huwerl came by his wisdom a hard way. The older of two boys in his family, he saw that his father was a provider. He worked hard on an assembly line and always brought home a paycheck. But, Huwerl says, his father fell short in other essential ways. “He was a weekend drinker, and he was an abuser.”

“Fatherhood is so important. It’s what you show your kids, and what you do with them. I know it’s real important for fathers to be positive reading models. … As I always used to tell my students, if you can find a job — any job — that doesn’t require reading, I’ll give you an A for the rest of your year.”

“So keep at it Read to Grow! … I’ll keep reading to my granddaughters, because the way you lead is the way the family is going to follow.”

At Read to Grow, we distribute about 190,000 books annually and regularly give bilingual literacy workshops through partnerships that include our collaboration with the GROW! Truck.

Now in our 19th year, we hope you’ll support us in promoting language skills and literacy for children, beginning at birth.

Here’s what gifts can do:

$30 = 12 new baby books for pregnant women at health centers
$60 = literacy packets for 8 mothers of newborns    $250 = GROW! Truck workshop & books
$125 = 2 summer books to each of 25 young schoolchildren
$175 = 70 new bilingual books for young children
$300 = 125 new multicultural books
$500 = 1 book for 200 kids at food pantry
$1,000 = 400 books for a BOOK PLACE                                      



The Great Give 2018

Now’s the time to support READ TO GROW during the 9th Annual Great Give.

This special online opportunity to help the charity of your choice begins at 8 a.m. May 1st and runs to 8 p.m. Wednesday, May 2nd.
Just click HERE.

READ TO GROW thanks you!

In our 19th year, we’ve given more than 1.7 million books to children in Connecticut.  We’ve given workshops so that families learn the simple but important ways to build their children’s language skills. We’ve formed more than 40 partnerships with other nonprofits to ensure our books and literacy information reach the children and families who need them most.


Read to Grow Winter Appeal Underway

Joy. Understanding. Knowledge. Opportunity.

All these–and much more–are the gifts of reading and books. While their values are immeasurable, we know their power begins with language skills and literacy. A parent sharing a book with a child might seem such a baby step toward reading. It isn’t. It makes a connection and a path to communication and comprehension. It leads to habits of sharing and learning and a way of life for a child and family that can truly shape a healthier community and society.

Small measures matter so much.

Today too many young children in families across Connecticut don’t have the books they need. Their parents don’t know the importance–and easy ways and heartfelt fun–of sharing books with their children from birth. Read to Grow strives to change that. We have:

  • given more than 1.6 million books;
  • reached more than 1 million children;
  • formed 46 formal partnerships with other nonprofits to reach and educate more at-risk families.

Please help us to make a greater difference.

Thank you. Best wishes for the holidays and the 2018 year.

To donate, click HERE.


Giving Tuesday November 28, 2017

Read to Grow welcomes gifts of time, donations and gently used books.

On this special day of the holiday season, let’s make our community strong together. Let’s help parents to learn about and practice daily habits that will build their children’s language skills and literacy.

To donate, click here.



Guests who had their photographs taken with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at the benefit event for Read to Grow on May 17 at the College Street Music Hall in New Haven can view those photos by clicking HERE. The link will take you to a page on the website of Tricia Bohan Photography.

You can download your photo by clicking the download button.

We will be posting other photos taken at the event on our website by May 26th.

If you have any questions, please contact our office at 203.488.6800 and ask for Robin Baker or Kyn Tolson


Learn about the Great Give

Read to Grow is participating in The Great Give 2017,
an online giving event for nonprofits in the New Haven region.

For 36 hours, starting at 8 a.m. on May 2, 2017 and lasting until 8 p.m. on May 3,your charitable donation will make us eligible for thousands of dollars in prizes when you give to us through TheGreatGive.org.

Please visit https://thegreatgive.org/npo/read-to-grow to make a donation to Read to Grow.

Your online donation during these two days will mean more babies and children will get free books and more parents will learn about the importance of reading to their children!

Please join us in this wonderful period of giving!



‘Big Words to Little Me’

Sakina Ibrahim (right) with two girls in her workshop at Wexler-Grant in New Haven.

Sakina Ibrahim used her book “Big Words to Little Me” to present a workshop on self-esteem and affirmation to girls in fifth, sixth and seventh grades at Wexler-Grant Community School in New Haven on April 5.

The hit presentation was part of the New Haven Police Department’s Community Wellness campaign, spearheaded by police Sgt. Shafiq Abdussabur. 25 copies of “Big Words to Little Me” were purchased by Read to Grow for the special program.

Ibrahim is a writer and social entrepreneur. She is an NAACP Image Award nominee for Outstanding Literary Work for her debut book “Big Words to Little Me: Advice to the Younger Self.” She holds a Masters of Fine Arts from the University of California Irvine. She has worked as a dance educator while operating leadership and education programs with organizations such as the Dance Theatre of Harlem.


It’s Out of This World!

The New Haven Public Schools received 5,024 free copies of the hardcover “Galactic Hot Dogs” this April from Read to Grow.

The books were collected by Lauren Canalori, who is the Lead Literacy Teacher for students in kindergarten through 8th grade in the New Haven schools. She and others are working on a plan to give the book to all students in two grades at the end of this school year for a summer reading campaign.

Read to Grow is delighted to be part of this special promotion of books and reading for young children!


Recent Grants Empower Our Mission

Walmart State Giving Program 

With $40,000 from Walmart Foundation, Read to Grow has purchased a new van. The 2017 Chrysler Ram ProMaster 1500 is already on the road, driven by Israel “Izzy” Oliveras. Izzy makes numerous book pick-ups and deliveries every week around the state. He expects to log more than 15,000 miles on the van’s odometer in the coming year.

Community Foundation for Greater New Haven

The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven awarded Read to Grow a three-year grant totaling $52,000 to fund our Books for Babies program in Griffin, Saint Raphael and Yale New Haven hospitals and to support nine Book Places and five Partnerships in New Haven County and the Valley.

Pitney Bowes Foundation

For the ninth year, Pitney Bowes has backed Read to Grow, this year with $25,000. The grant is significant to our Books for Babies program in operating in St. Vincent’s and Bridgeport hospitals and will enable operations at four Book Places in Bridgeport.

The Bowerbird

The Bowerbird gift shop in Old Lyme gave $5,355 to Read to Grow as the beneficiary of proceeds from its gift-wrapping fee during the period from November 2015 through October 2016. We are grateful to have been selected for this philanthropic program at the store.


New Haven Police Opens Little Free Library

A Little Free Library has been set up at the Newhallville Substation of the New Haven Police Department as part of “Community Wellness” efforts organized by police Sgt. Shafiq Abdussabur.

Sgt. Abdussabur and New Haven resident Jane Lewis spearheaded setting up the Little Free Library in Newhallville, which opened on Nov. 12 at 596 Winchester Ave. Read to Grow supplied some of the books offered to the public at the always-open library. The library is a permanent box containing books for all ages and is attached to the outside of the substation.

No library card is needed, and members of the community take ownership. The library mantra—“take a book, share a book, add a book, and return a book—is similar to a program started in Rowan County, North Carolina and is designed to break down prejudices and build trust and good will between police officers and the community.