To honor the unsung heroes working in every corner of this country as volunteers, the National Association of Counties (NACo) launched the Acts of Caring awards in 2000 as part of the Counties Serve America program, a long-term project to raise public awareness and understanding about county government. The awards recognize that by joining forces with county government, volunteers have a powerful impact on their communities that is both immediate and long lasting. The Probation Community Action Association’s Storytime Program was one of 24 outstanding volunteer programs selected from across the nation to receive the 2003 Acts of Caring award. Congratulations to the PCAA Storytime Program!
PCAA, The "Heart of Probation,” is a non-profit organization established in 1993 to assist youth supervised by the Probation Department and in the community. Orange County is the only Probation Department in the State of California to have a non-profit organization supporting some of the special needs of probationers and their families. The mission of PCAA is to provide assistance and advocacy for at-risk and victim youth and to create and implement intervention and prevention programs. The organization’s slogan is "Helping Youth and Rebuilding Families."
In June of 2000, PCAA created Storytime for youth living in the County Islands. Storytime is a reading program that encourages literacy and is entirely supported by volunteer efforts. Statistics show that if children fall behind in reading, they are more apt to join gangs than a young person who can read and do well in school. PCAA members believe that if youth are off the streets and learning to read with their families, a world of opportunities and hope for a brighter future become available. Storytime started small with just seven children and their mothers. It has grown tremendously over the past three years.
Storytime began as a prevention program for the County Islands. It is currently offered once a month by PCAA volunteers. Storytimes are held at community centers with the densest populations and the greatest service needs. Services in these centers have been enhanced by Storytime, bringing these pockets of poverty and crime up to the standards of neighboring cities.
During each Storytime, community volunteers read a pre-selected book and each child receives a copy of the book to take home. The program also provides an opportunity for high-school students to participate by serving as "page turners" for the readers. Since the program’s inception, more than 88 readers have been involved and over 8,000 books have been distributed to young people.
All books have excellent age-appropriate subject matter, such as friendship, racial equality, good manners, integrity, etc. The books are colorful and fun. At Christmas, a book is chosen and a matching stuffed animal is provided for each child, along with cookies and milk. The book selected for November 2002 was entitled "Franklin's Thanksgiving" – a wonderful story about giving and sharing.
Storytime is considered one of the most successful programs in the history of the County Island community centers in Orange County. The program’s consistency has helped to establish a trusting relationship between community members and service providers. Police officers, Department of Justice staff, nurse teams, teachers, preschool workers, Probation officers, Board members, community volunteers and college presidents have all served as volunteer Storytime readers. Often the reader will bring in a treat to go along with the theme of the book.
The trusting relationships built through Storytime have extended to other service providers in the County Islands. Youth and family participation in community events have increased through activities such as Community Days and neighborhood Cleanup Days. Services and access to services have also increased through assistance provided by community-based organizations such as the YMCA, Community Development Council, Community Service Programs, Inc. and the Families and Communities Together (FaCT). In addition, County agencies (Social Services Agency, Health Care Agency, Probation Department, Sheriff's Department, Planning and Development Services and Housing and Community Development) have increased their visibility and availability in the County Islands.
The success of Storytime is being replicated! Officials of the City of Santa Ana Parks and Recreation program have met with PCAA and Probation Department staff and are planning to start a Storytime in a high-crime, low-income area. PCAA staff has volunteered to assist in the selection of books and participate in the first Storytime. The program continues to generate interest when introduced at public functions. People are amazed by the fact that each child participating in Storytime receives the same book that was just read by a community volunteer, and it's brand new!
Congratulations to the Probation Community Action Association Storytime Program for the distinguished honor of being selected for the 2003 Acts of Caring Awards.