Back to the basics

Giving students tools they need to succeed at reading and math

by Lauren Dowdle, content director, JBMC Media
photos courtesy of Better Basics

Books not only transport readers to new worlds, but they can also help give children the confidence and knowledge that can change their lives. To make a positive difference in the lives of local children and their families, Better Basics works to put books into their hands.

Better Basics was founded more than 25 years ago by John Glasser, who saw the direct correlation between poverty and illiteracy. Better Basics provides literacy intervention and enrichment programs for students in Birmingham and Fairfield City Schools, as well as Talladega County Schools.

Dr. Kristi Bradford works with students on reading and math.

The nonprofit works to help children learn to read, comprehend, retain, and ultimately learn — while also exposing them to multi-cultural arts and enrichment programs. They realized the most significant factor influencing a child’s early educational success was the introduction to book and being read to at home. However, not all students have access to books at home, and children who are not reading at grade level are more likely to dropout and commit juvenile crimes. 

To give students the knowledge and resources they need to be successful, Better Basics offers reading and mathematics programs for elementary students both during and after school. Some of these groups are led by part-time certified teachers, as well as volunteers who work with students one-on-one, says Alisa Boone, director of development and communications.

“A lot of them have no books at home. If they have nothing to practice reading, that’s challenging,” Boone says. “I like seeing how much impact we have giving these kids books to take home.”

During the 2019/2020 school year, Better Basics distributed nearly 50,000 books to about 22,000 students across 35 schools. Better Basics has more than 1,000 volunteers during a normal year.

Dr. Kristi Bradford, executive director of Better Basics, is a retired teacher and administrator, and they have volunteers who are certified teachers. They also have students from UAB and Birmingham Southern College who provide tutoring.

To adapt to the challenges COVID has brought, Better Basics went virtual this school year. However, they still raised money to purchase 9,500 new books and partnered with organizations that were offering feeding stations and child care to put those books into the neighborhoods they normally served during the school year.

“Every year, we hope to grow to more schools and students and put more books in the community,” she says.

Better Basics partnered with other local organizations to give students books and other supplies.

They put book nooks with new and used books in various communities and are the Jefferson County affiliate for the Dolly Parton Imagination Station. Our special projects include Ready 2 Read, a partnership with Habitat for Humanity, Summer Brain Gain, and Books for Birmingham.

Better Basics also host Birmingham Reads each year (before the pandemic). Birmingham Reads is a one-day event that brings together local celebrities like Miss Alabama and TV personalities to go into about 600 classrooms to read books. Each student also receives a copy of the book.

“It’s very exciting to see these people come into the schools and get the kids excited,” Boone says.

Their annual Love for Literacy fundraiser will be virtual this year, with luxury items and sponsorships up for sale. However, they plan to be back in person in 2022 for this popular event.

While this past school year has been anything but typical or easy, the need to teach students how to read hasn’t changed. Better Basics is always looking for more volunteers, donations, and support from the community.

Better Basics is located at 1231 Second Avenue South in Birmingham (map). For more information, visit


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