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Family ACCESS holds Literacy Day for Newton residents

The entrance of Family ACCESS of Newton showcases some of their resources, parenting books, and children’s books.Sam Thomas

Emily Butler carried box after box of books — sorted by language, subject, and reading level — to the parking lot of Family ACCESS of Newton.

Butler, an intern for the nonprofit, unloaded them onto tables where local residents would soon begin browsing as part of Literacy Day, an event featuring a book swap and community outreach.

There were also grand openings of two Little Free Libraries, which are mailbox-like bookcases where people can take books or leave their own for others.

Maureen Lister , executive director of Family ACCESS, said support from residents, such as donating books, was vital to the Sept. 17 event.

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“We’re here to serve the community, and without the community we really wouldn’t exist,” Lister said. “It’s amazing what an impact a good population has.”

Literacy Day was the organization’s first in-person event since the start of the pandemic. It included a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Little Free Libraries in the organization’s parking lot on Waltham Street, as well as a reading from a children’s author and a community book swap.

Family ACCESS has been operating for over 100 years and has grown to support ten communities, including Newton, with a focus on working families, Valentine said. Their programs include an Early Learning Center, an educational and child care program, and Early Literacy Services, a program to support children without access to literacy materials.

Lister said the organization focuses on “life-cycle relationships” with families.

“Kindness is what we say we can’t have enough of,” Lister said. “And we try to do that here.”

Wendy Valentine , program operations director for Family ACCESS, said members of the community donated books and shipped them anonymously to the organization.

“People believe in the value of early literacy and understand the importance it has [for] children throughout their lifespan,” Valentine said.

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Literacy Day came in the aftermath of remote learning during the pandemic shutdowns, a time that was difficult for many young children who were just beginning or continuing their early education.

“We are seeing slippage on developmental milestones on some of our youngest children,” Valentine said.

Literacy Day is meant to combat a lack of reading materials in some homes, she said, and give children access to books they can keep. The addition of new Little Free Libraries — outfitted with solar-powered lights for nighttime browsing — is meant to allow continuous access to new and used books.

The community book swap also gave families the chance to take and leave a variety of books, some of which were in languages other than English.

Carrie Preston , who attended the event with her three children and is a professor at Boston University, said in an email she thinks it is “absolutely critical” for children to have fun reading. She said she and her family donated a box of “gently loved” books for the event.

“I believe the spirit of fun that permeates Family ACCESS’s work does extend literacy in our communities,” Preston said.