By donating to Books 'n' Bears at the Holidays, you'll be part of ensuring that 2,000 underprivileged area preschool children receive a new book and a cuddly teddy bear this holiday season.
This year Books'n'Bears turns 31.
Help us continue this tradition with your generous gift and read the story of the Books'n'Bears founder, Bert Harmon.
The best early childhood memories are made of these: picture books and teddy bears, storytelling and hugs.
At Broward County Library in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the dream of a thoughtful, generous man named Bert S. Harmon has made these memories possible for thousands of needy youngsters over the past 30 years. Because of him, the heartwarming Books 'n' Bears at the Holidays program brings holiday magic - and a book and a bear - each year to 2,000 children ages 2 to 4 at library parties throughout the county.
It all started in 1986 over lunch with a group of librarians. Bert, an active library volunteer and a founder of the Broward Public Library Foundation, listened closely as staff described their visits to local child-care centers, and how excited the children were to read books that were delivered to the centers by the county's bookmobile. He thought for a moment and then asked, "Why doesn't the library give the children books to take home?" recalled Kathleen Imhoff, a former Broward County Library administrator. The librarians said there wasn't enough money in their budget to buy the books. "He smiled," Ms. Imhoff remembered, "and said, 'Why don't I just buy them all a book of their own?'"
And that's just what Uncle Bertie, as he was affectionately known, did. He delivered those 200 books personally, too, in visits to the child-care centers, where the children hugged him around the knees.
The next year, Bert decided to add a stuffed animal. A teddy bear - Book Bear - seemed like the perfect choice. The children found a bookmark in their new books that read, "B is for ‘bear’ and for ‘book’ and for ‘Bert,’ who gave this book to you."
By year three, the tradition was firmly established and Bert challenged the librarians to keep growing the program. In time, the Books 'n' Bears at the Holidays program evolved into a series of lively library parties, with songs and stories, for children enrolled at child centers in disadvantaged neighborhoods. The highlight for the children has always been opening the gift bags and "bear-hugging" their plush teddy bear and bear-themed book.
Bert Harmon, a successful lawyer with a big heart for children in need, died in 1991 at age 85. His dream came true in ways he would be proud of.
Every year, the Broward community helps support this program through gifts to the Broward Public Library Foundation’s annual appeal.
"Bert’s enthusiasm and can-do spirit grew his idea," Mrs. Imhoff said, "from a small book giveaway program to a major children’s program designed to help underprivileged children learn to love books and reading – and the library!”