Tree House Books
Organizational mission statement (50 words or less):
The mission of Tree House Books is to grow and sustain a community of readers, writers, and thinkers in North Philadelphia
Brief description of organization (include key programs and recent achievements, 100 words or less):
Tree House Books, a literacy enrichment center, focuses on enhancing people’s lives through books. Everyone, regardless of background, accomplishments, or challenges, can use books to help them achieve their life’s goals. Through our giving library, literacy enrichment programs for children, reading intensive summer camps, and book delivery system, we want everyone we work with to be able to take advantage of the collective knowledge compiled in books and use that knowledge for their benefit. We believe that books are some of the world’s greatest teachers. The true purpose of education is not to teach work, but to teach life.
Population served (25 words or less):
We serve our community in North Philadelphia, in the 19121 zip code. 100% of our program area is directed towards Philadelphia.
Geographic area(s) served:
In North Philadelphia, where we have our Giving Library, 88% of our community are people of color; 52% live below the poverty line. There are no libraries within walking distance. On average, barely 12% of students are achieving grade-level reading and writing benchmarks at Duckrey, Hartranft, Ludlow and Dunbar, the local elementary schools. Daily trauma, whether through food insecurity, neighborhood violence or economic stress, are the reality for our children. In many underserved neighborhoods throughout Philadelphia, there is just one age- appropriate book for every 300 homes. The current Covid-19 crisis has brought these needs into a more sharpened focus. We are continuing to be nimble and responsive to emerging needs.
In which Life Science Cares Area of Focus is your organization’s work primarily?
Does the organization already receive support from or otherwise engage life science companies? If so, how?
Please outline existing volunteer opportunities or programs & initiatives that harness human capital including any current virtual volunteer events:
Our Giving Library: a year-round pay-what-you-wish community bookstore that services 2,000 residents each year.
Words on Wheels: a book delivery service for residents in our zip code. Each year we deliver
approximately 5,000 books to the homes of 350 children.
Tree House Branches: Portable libraries that are established in schools, community centers, local businesses, and apartment complexes. We provide books to over 30 schools, businesses, and civic organizations.
Summer Book Camp/After School Literacy: A year-long program featuring acquisition, recreational reading, creative writing and critical thinking. This service is provided during
after-school hours and supports up to 90 children each year in their literacy development.
Sprouts: A program for our earliest language learners, Sprouts connects 3 to 5 years olds to language development, letter recognition, and early reading strategies in order to prepare them for Kindergarten.
Seeds for Teens: A teen mentorship program focused on “achievement literacy” and whole-family participation in their teen’s future plans for success. Seeds for Teens is a cohort model and should serve 15-20 teens per cohort, with 4 cohorts per year.
Please outline proposed or potential future volunteer opportunities or programs & initiatives that harness human capital including any planned virtual volunteer events:
For our Access to Books programming, we would like to keep up our pace of book distributions. We recognize that we are not going to reach our past year’s goals for this metric. (Last year alone we gave away over 88,000 books!) However, we would like to continue to average more than 3,000 books per month distributed to partners like Miss Judith, a neighborhood grandmother who turned an abandoned lot on her block into a book giveaway area using books provided and curated by Tree House Books! Once the Unnamed Mobile Distribution is in operation, of course, we would hope to see those numbers jump. All through the summer, while we did run a socially distant Summer Book Camp, we were planning on the next steps: a program we are calling “Equity Pods.” Equity Pods are our version of a School/pandemic pod, except they are safe, inclusive, accessible, and affordable for Black and Brown families. Online schools do not work for everyone. Studies have shown that the recent Covid-related move to online class has already exasperated existing poverty-related achievement gaps by as much as 15% - 20%.
Our Literacy programming’s goals build upon our overall mission to create and build a community of readers, writers, and thinkers. In order to stay nimble and be able to reach these goals, we are planning on a flexible learning modality that takes into consideration any level of quarantine. Overall, these goals include:
Reducing the amount of “summer slide” and “COVID slide” in our participants’ reading levels. (Early estimates show that students will return after COVID with roughly 70% of the learning gains in reading relative to a typical school year. Our plan is that students in our Equity Pod and Sprouts, and Words on Wheels will show no loss in reading achievement.)
Increasing parent’s access and understanding of technology as it relates to online learning for their children.
Parents will read at least 5 times a week to their young children birth to grade 3, and maintain independent reading times for children grades 4-12.
Please signify the type of support you are requesting from Life Science Cares:
General Operations: Literacy Initiatives
Total Project Budget (if applicable):
In which Life Science Cares Area of Focus is the requested project’s work?
Description of Need (What is the issue you plan to address? What are the demographics and number of people
you plan to serve, if applicable?):
Currently, our neighborhood is being inhibited by a literacy inequity that manifests itself in several forms, with
the most pressing being academic literacy. The ability to read, synthesize and internalize information, and then
being able to practically apply this information to one’s daily life is one of the most basic of all human needs.
When a person receives a world class education, they not only receive the academic benefits, but the other
aspects that give meaning to their life become enhanced as well. Students that perform well academically are less
likely to engage in maladaptive behavior. Access to a quality education is one of the best ways to ensure that a
person will contribute to the financial, social, and spiritual capital of their community. Our programs are designed
to take an integrated approach as we work to alter the educational trajectory of our students. We want to ensure
that our children are not only skilled in the mechanics of reading, but also the culture of reading. When we do
this successfully we provide the foundation which enables young people to live life on their own terms.
Tree House Books seeks to stand in this gap through a Literacy Programming Continuum that begins with access
to books for all ages. Our Access to Books programs work to stock personal libraries in homes. Access begins with
our Words on Wheels program, which utilizes bikes and wagons to deliver 5 brand new reading level appropriate
books to families 3 times a summer. Through workbooks that the families can turn in for incentives, this program
helps disrupt summer slide (a phenomenon where students lose academic progress over the summer months.)
We also provide books for free in our Giving Library and at community gatherings. Our Giving Library is typically
open 6 days a week, from 10-6 Monday through Friday and 10-3 on Saturday, providing the community with
unfettered access to the books of their choosing. Through all of our Access to Books programs, we were able to
give away over 75,000 books in 2017, over 81,000 in 2018, and over 88,000 in 2019.
Tree House Books is ahead of the research that states that books that are chosen are more engaging than books
that are simply given. For example, at Tree House, people can come browse, talk to a trained volunteer, have the
children get a quick reading level assessment and ultimately choose what they want to read. This is opposed to a
book distribution model like the ones where a visiting health care professional brings a book to a home during
routine care. Our Giving Library remains a popular haven in the neighborhood and partnerships with Reading
Captains and the Maternity Care Coalition will allow us to grow the reach and impact of our Library.
We also know that you cannot just give a child a book and expect holistic change. Tree House Books is committed
to building off of the vast legacy of our community, standing as an institution ready to assist in our
neighborhood’s positive change. Through positive relationships built with staff and other community members,
children will grow knowing that they have a stable place of belonging. We recently began offering free meals for
both our after school and summer camp programs because it’s hard to read when you are hungry! While food
insecurity is not our explicit mission, it nevertheless is important to the families in our community and speaks to a
basic human right.
THB aims to improve literacy. We are a warm, comfortable haven in a neighborhood where over 52% live below
the poverty level, where children experience daily trauma (over the years, zip code 19121 has accounted for over
65% of the 7-24-year-old gunshot victims in the city) and schools struggle. THB staff and volunteers are trained in
trauma-informed and literacy instruction; the relationships we build impact not only community literacy rates, but
also the daily lives of the people we serve.
Our profile has only risen in the neighborhood as our outdoor food distribution during COVID-19 has put us
directly in front of the community 3 days a week. We know that our growth cannot be in a vacuum so we are
actively looking to grow our base of partner organizations. For example, our partnership with the NDS program of
the Archdiocese was the only reason we were able to pivot and begin serving food so quickly after COVID-19 hit.
As an organization dedicated to this community, we know that we are not in this work alone, so we need to make
sure that we are part of the fabric of uplift in this neighborhood. This health emergency is going to hit our
neighborhood hard, the economic effects are already being felt. These funds would greatly help us continue our
mission of cultivating a community of reading and writing during this time of great stress.
Specific Activities (Please detail what activities you intend to undertake as a result of the grant. Include
information about service delivery and timelines.):
We measure our impact in two distinct areas: Access to Books and Literacy. Responding to the research that
shows that having books in the home is a huge indicator of future success, we make sure to have programs that
put books in homes. We also know that a book is not enough.
During Covid, our literacy programs reorganized online and our staff started teaching parents how to use the
technology they would need. When it was safe and necessary, we opened two Equity Pods to support distance
learning. General operating funds will allow us flexibility as we create and adapt literacy programming to meet the
emerging needs of our community due to COVID-19.
Typically, we start with Access to Books as our foundation: before a child can love reading, they must have books
to read. Studies demonstrate that children who grow up with at least twenty books in their home statistically stay
in school three years longer than children who grow up without books.
Our Books in Every Home campaign launched in January ‘17 with the goal to collect and distribute 50,000 books to
homes in Philadelphia in 2017. Last year alone we gave away over 88,000 books. Our distribution efforts take
Giving Library: a dual-purpose literacy center and community center that contains thousands of quality books for
anybody to take free of charge. During Covid 19, we have been placing a selection of kids, middle grade, teen, and
adult books out on the street for people to peruse and take.
Words on Wheels: A free summer delivery service for the North Philadelphia Community. Families may sign up by
household to receive five age-appropriate books per person three times a summer. Students then work with a
literacy specialist for an individualized plan designed to increase literacy levels while schools are not in session.
Branches: We have placed 7 bookshelves to rec centers throughout North Philadelphia. These shelves are
continuously stocked with books free for anybody to take.
Tree House Visits: Whole-class field trips from schools all over the city. We provide Take-Home Libraries and
samples of our programs to thousands of school children. From this first contact, we can form long-term
relationships with children and families throughout the city so that everyone has access to books and our
programs regardless of zip code.
● Other book distribution efforts include:
○ School Distributions
○ Community Event Distribution
○ Partner Organizations
○ Barber Shop Books
Our Literacy programming’s goals build upon our overall mission to create and build a community of readers,
writers, and thinkers.
After School Literacy: A “Choose Your Own Adventure,” montessori-style experience program for students aged
7-12. It is designed to foster a love of reading and writing in children as they pursue their own interests and set
meaningful goals for themselves. They receive free reading and literacy instruction with an emphasis on creativity,
community, and cultural pride.
Summer Book Camp A full-day literacy based summer program for youths that offers instruction in language
acquisition, recreational reading, critical thinking and creative writing. This camp also includes field trips and, of
course, free meals.
Seeds for Teens: This program focuses on exposing middle and high school youths to professionals in a variety of
industries that include both college-bound and trade professions.
Tree House Sprouts: Volunteer educators visit local daycares of children 3-6 to deliver early language
development and Kindergarten readiness lessons at no cost. It is designed for emerging readers as they develop
and experience the excitement of reading and writing independently. This year, our success will be crucial as
many parents will rely on these centers as they return to work following Covid-related shutdowns.
Like many businesses, the coronavirus pandemic has forced Tree House to halt most of its typical services. In this
time, we are doing what we can to continue our mission to cultivate a community of readers and writers while
working against the stresses that a pandemic like this puts on under-resourced communities. They include:
Socially distant Summer Book Camp. We worked hard to be able to provide a normalized, safe space for about 25
Equity Pods: A special learning pod for students K-5 who need a place with dedicated internet access, and
educational support along with cultural and artistic exploration instruction.
(Unnamed) Mobile Book Distribution: A Giving Library on wheels! This vehicle will take the books to the streets in
our neighborhood. Partnering with Reading Captains, nearby schools, and community groups, our Book Bus will
let readers decide on the books they want to read, and encourage reading for pleasure.
Evaluation (What are the anticipated results? What methods will you use to measure your progress? What does
success look like?):
Throughout 2020, we have proven at least a few things: we are resilient, we are nimble, and we are relentless.
What we do know is that we are growing, our reach is farther than it’s ever been and we have invested many
hours of care and instruction for the students we serve. Covid has allowed us to focus our energy on programs
that will propel us further.
A word about our overall SMART goals. Our goals build upon our overall mission to create and build a community
of readers, writers, and thinkers. In order to stay nimble and be able to reach these goals, we are planning on a
flexible learning modality that takes into consideration any level of quarantine. Overall, these goals include:
1. Reducing the amount of “summer slide” and “COVID slide” in our participants’ reading levels. (Early
estimates show that students will return after COVID with roughly 70% of the learning gains in reading
relative to a typical school year. Our plan is that students in our Equity Pod and Sprouts, and Words on
Wheels will show no loss, and some gains in reading achievement.)
2. Increasing parent’s access and understanding of technology as it relates to online learning for their
3. Parents will read at least 5 times a week to their young children birth to grade 3, and maintain
independent reading times for children grades 4-12.
Through these literacy programs and our consistent presence in this community, we expect to not just sustain the
benefits of our literacy programming, but also build on them. We want to be a part of what it takes to build whole
people and supporting them to build whole communities. Literacy is our goal, but we know that our vision
includes a North Central Philadelphia that is vibrant, historically and culturally grounded, and produces whole
people who are able to enhance the vitality and vibrancy of our city.
The cumulative effect of these programs is that our students will, of course, increase one or two grade levels in
reading but more importantly that this increased reading proficiency will allow them to engage in deeper cultural
Does this project already have support from life science companies? If so, what is the nature of that support?
No, we don’t currently receive support from any life science companies.
EFFECTIVENESS, COLLABORATION, INNOVATION
Is there any other information not captured elsewhere regarding your organization, project, program or initiatives
that you believe will help the Life Science Cares team in evaluating your request?
We have key partners throughout the city. As part of Philadelphia’s literacy community and a Read by 4th partner
committed to the goals of the National Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, we are well connected to other literacy
organizations and share resources, ideas, and support. The Tanner G. Duckrey School, our local public school,
helps us identify students and promotes our programming. We have solidified our partnership with Duckrey by
hosting the “Friends of” monthly meetings at Tree House Books.
We just started “Tree House Books at Temple,” a student-run organization that will provide invaluable assistance
in recruitment, training, awareness, and fundraising. The Maternity Care Coalition and Tree House Books have just
reignited a partnership wherein we will bring in our center moms and support staff as we work on program design
that will encourage cross-program engagement. Finally, we have an ongoing relationship with Team First Book
Philadelphia to provide assistance in acquiring diverse, appropriate books at a low cost.
How does your organization or program differentiate from other organizations doing similar work? Are you
executing or proposing to executive an innovation in program or service?
Tree House Books is a very unique organization in Philadelphia. Our commitment to North Philadelphia, while also
serving in a broad coalition of literacy activists, sets us apart from other organizations. Our two-pronged approach
featuring literacy programming alongside our Access to Books programming is unique in Philadelphia. Many of our
initiatives and programs also rely on our ability to network and leverage our reach. We partner with other
organizations for program delivery in Access to Books and Literacy. Organizations like Smith Playhouse and Action
for Early Learning are among the hundreds annually that use Tree House to get their books for distribution. Our
“Branches” partner us with North Philadelphia rec centers. We also assist literacy programs like the new
Barbershop Books and Philly Families Read Together by helping recruit participants and offer space. We have
shared programming with One Day At A Time (ODAAT) and the local Duckrey school. As we grow, we look to
investments from organizations like the Life Science Cares to make sure we are healthy and robust enough to
continue serving in the long run in this neighborhood.