First Book Executive Vice President Chandler Arnold Talks to

First Book is a nonprofit organization that distributes brand-new books to children in low-income families. got the opportunity to interview the organization's Executive Vice President, Chandler Arnold. Read on to learn what Mr. Arnold has to say about this inspiring organization.

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By Sarah Wright

Chandler Arnold, EVP of First Book You are the Executive Vice President of a successful nonprofit organization. What is your educational background? Do you have any educational advice for high school or college students interested in entering careers in the nonprofit sector?

Chandler Arnold: In college I studied social change in American History - the civil rights movement, the women's rights movement and various education reform efforts - and started a volunteer program pairing college students as reading partners in Head Start centers. Service, as your readers know, is a powerful thing and I always thought I learned much more from those 3- and 4-year-olds than they learned from me.

A few years later I earned my MBA with the goal of learning how to harness the power of the private sector to advance social change.

My advice to young people is to study what you are passionate about. Also, don't be afraid to follow that passion outside of the classroom: Form mentor relationships with your professors, take on a volunteer leadership role with an organization you care about, push yourself just a little beyond what is comfortable or easy for you. That's when the real magic starts to happen... Please tell us how First Book got started and describe what made you decide to enter this line of work.

CA: Our president, Kyle Zimmer, began her career as a corporate attorney in Washington, D.C., and also volunteered as a reading tutor at a soup kitchen. She was appalled to learn that the children she was reading with had no books of their own at home. After some research into the scarcity of books for kids in low-income communities she began to grasp the magnitude of the need. So, together with two friends, she decided to do something about it. That idea grew, and in 1992 they founded First Book.

I've always had a head for business and a nonprofit heart, and my work in college had illustrated how many wonderful teachers and programs there are in our country already doing great work. I didn't want to reinvent the wheel; I wanted to join an innovative organization that could leverage the work of these local heroes. What is First Book's target age group?

CA: We provide books for free and low cost to educators and community program leaders who serve children in need from birth to age 18. We think it's vital not just to reach kids of all ages, but to keep each child supplied with a steady stream of quality books as he or she grows. One particular focus of First Book is providing brand-new books to kids in need. Why the focus on unused books?

CA: A brand new book can be very powerful for a child's self esteem, especially for children in low-income families who tend to get many second-hand, used items. We give educators access to new, high-quality books, often for the first time. For these teachers, the ability to craft curriculum with new books and better resources can transform the learning environment for their students. Describe First Book's methods. How do you distribute the books, and how do you determine the recipients?

CA: To date, I'm proud to say First Book has distributed more than 80 million new books. We have come up with some innovative ways to make new books available, accessible and affordable to educators serving kids in need. The most recent innovation is the First Book Marketplace, which is an online store available only to registered First Book schools and programs that serve children from low-income families. Educators realize purchasing power like never before and can access new and award-winning titles at prices 50% - 90% below retail. We also provide free books through our National Book Bank, as well as grants through our local volunteer Advisory Boards throughout the country.

Any program serving children from low-income neighborhoods can register with First Book. Other than book distribution, what projects does First Book take on?

CA: We strive to provide not only books, but any educational resources that the kids we serve might need - dictionaries, educational CDs, educational games and so on. We're expanding into the digital realm and are excited by the opportunities to provide reading content in many new formats. First Book has opened an office in Canada. Do you have any plans for expansion to other areas of the globe?

CA: We certainly do! We have done some exploratory work in South America and we are actively looking at bringing First Book's resources to India. But there are real and significant differences between countries in terms of demographics, culture, economics, education and the local publishing industry, and we want to make sure we are being as smart as possible in our international expansion. As the organization's Executive Vice President, you've watched First Book grow. What are your long-term goals for First Book?

CA: Our long-term goal is to put ourselves out of business. I like to say that we're not interested in fighting illiteracy; we're determined to end it. Obviously, despite all the wonderful progress we've made over the years, we've only scratched the surface of what needs to be done, so we have a lot of work ahead of us. How can our readers get involved with your organization?

CA: We welcome any educator who serves children from low-income communities to register with First Book and/or join or start a First Book Local Advisory Board in your area. For those from more fortunate schools and communities, there are always opportunities to support First Book's programs directly. And everyone can help us spread the word about First Book. We don't want to be a well-kept secret. 'Like' us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and sign-up for our e-newsletter. And of course, donate! Every $10 contribution enables us to place five new books into the hands of a child in need. Finally, if there's anything else you'd like to share with our readers about literacy or First Book's work, please feel free to do so.

CA: This is a crisis. Our schools are in real trouble, and the fate of disadvantaged children concerns all of us. It's easy to think of these as problems affecting other neighborhoods, other people's children, but in fact, these problems affect everyone. If these kids fail, we will all fail.

So we welcome all hands on deck. You can learn more at, and I encourage you to join us.

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