For the Record

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