Giving Back

Mesa United Way 12 Books Program

Mesa's 12 Books Program helps supply economically disadvantaged children with books. Photo courtesy of Mesa United Way.

Mesa’s 12 Books Program helps supply economically disadvantaged children with books. Photo courtesy of Mesa United Way.

Could you ever image your home without books? Impossible though it may seem in today’s society, hundreds of school-age children live here in Mesa under those very circumstances. These children represent lower income areas where residents have no books or have never visited a library. The 12 Books Program, which provides children in targeted schools with a dozen books for summer reading, is a response to this literacy gap.

The City of Mesa learned about the 12 Books Program when attending a conference two years ago in Tucson. They were so impressed by what they heard that they returned to Mesa and began taking steps to implement the program under the sponsorship of the Mesa United Way. Patty Mullen, Read On Mesa Coordinator, had recently retired from the corporate world and was looking for a way to use her skills as a volunteer. As an Encore Fellow, Patty’s professional skills were a perfect match as someone to head up the project.

Mesa United Way’s Read On 12 Books Program was introduced in May 2014 to reduce summer learning loss or summer brain drain. The school lunch program’s statistics helped determine the income levels of schools where the need would be the greatest. To date, distribution events have been held at six elementary schools and have given over 10,000 books to 5,000 children.

Why twelve books? Research shows that one of the single largest success factors for kindergarteners in low income households is access to books. The research also indicates that the key is providing the right level of reading material as well as allowing each child to self-select books of interest. Self-selecting books helps instill a love of reading. The first six books are preselected—that is, all children get the same six books. The fun really begins when they get to choose for themselves the remaining six books.

“The kids are so excited to pick out their very own books, that most of the time they usually sit down on the floor and just start reading the first book they get,” says Mullen. “They are having so much fun reading that it’s often difficult to get them to move on and finish their selection.”

So what can the community do to help? The program always needs books. 12 Books is run by the generous donations and service from the Mesa community. Donors hold book drives, collect gift cards, clean, sort and box books. Book drives are popular with the Girl Scouts and are a great Eagle Project. Volunteer readers are also needed.

“Please thank the LDS community for the ongoing support of this program. It’s been wonderful,” says Mullen.

Another item on the list of things the 12 Books program needs is a place with lots of space. “We are looking for space to store our books, hold cleaning events and prepare for distribution events,” says Mullen. “Something with easy access—books are heavy.”

For more information about Mesa’s Read On 12 Books Program, visit where you can also listen to a podcast presented by Mayor John Giles and Patty Mullen. Contact Patty Mullen at or 480-834-2124 to learn more about organizing a book drive or volunteering. There is also an Amazon wish list called 12 Books where donors can order books and send them directly to Mesa United Way.

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