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Sisters pass Books and a Blanket leadership to United Way | Local News


Books and a Blanket, a nonprofit that began as the idea of ​​two College Station girls 10 years ago, has grown into a nationally recognized organization and will now be part of the United Way of the Brazos Valley’s early literacy initiative.

Harper and Margaret Cunningham began Books and a Blanket when they were 9 and 7 years old, respectively, in response to learning not everyone in their school had a home library like they did.

The concept was simple: Provide new and gently used books and a handmade blanket or quilt to students in area school districts.

Now, at the ages of 18 and 16 and moving away from the Brazos Valley, the sisters are passing the torch to the United Way of the Brazos Valley. The transition was made official Thursday at a Chamber of Commerce ribbon cutting at the United Way offices in Bryan.


“In our first year, we were shocked and so proud to give out 119 baskets of 15 books each,” Margaret said, “and so it’s just incredible to think of how much we’ve grown with the community and with their support, and how honored we are to have gotten to where we are today.”

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Harper, who graduated last week from A&M Consolidated High School, said she did not originally think the program would reach the size it is or that it would even continue after that first year.

“But we got these thank-you notes, and they were the kindest, most heartfelt notes I’ve ever received,” Harper said. “The students were asking, ‘Are you coming back next year?’ So of course we’re going to come back the next year. We thought, well, we can keep doing this. This could actually grow into a nonprofit, and so no I didn’t originally think that United Way would eventually take over Books and a Blanket, but I’m extremely grateful that it worked out this way.”

Margaret said they did not want to see the program end just because they were moving away. They had discussed United Way taking it over, but did not start talking about it in a concrete way until the last year.

Alison Prince, president and CEO of the local United Way, said the name will remain the same and the established partnerships will continue, calling it a seamless transition. She knows they likely will be asked multiple times where the sisters are, but said the organization is committed to continuing their vision.

Prince said she is excited to continue the work and grateful the sisters trust United Way to lead it.

“This is really close to them,” she said, saying the sisters devoted summers, spring breaks and weekends over the last 10 years to Books and a Blanket. “That they trust us enough that we’re going to carry it forward and do well with it means a lot to us.”

Prince told the crowd at the ribbon cutting that Harper is set to be named an ex officio, non-voting member of the United Way board of directors, so she can remain part of the program even as she is in college. Harper noted she is interested in studying neuroscience.

Since establishing Books and a Blanket in 2012, the sisters have distributed more than 180,000 books, more than 17,000 blankets and earned national recognition on “The Today Show” and as a George HW Bush Points of Light Award recipient.

“I’m excited to see it grow with the United Way,” Harper said. “United Way has other literacy programs that they have been running, and I feel confident that United Way will both continue Books and a Blanket and be able to provide new ideas to just further our reach to the community and keep giving books.”

Prince said this is the first time they have taken on an established nonprofit, saying they typically see nonprofits formed out of programs that begin as United Way programs. Over the summer, she said, they will be looking at resources they use for their Book Bash program and how they can use those resources to support Books and a Blanket also. She said they will also be looking at letting the United Way Youth Leadership Cabinet take on Books and a Blanket, so it is still led by youth in the community.

“I think there’s something about youth being involved in the process of helping other youth that’s really important,” she said.

Harper said her dream is just for Books and a Blanket to continue giving books to kids.

Margaret said it is a bittersweet transition, but she is proud of the work they have accomplished and is excited to see how the program evolves.

The United Way’s goal for the program is the same as they had when they began the early literacy initiative in 2015 and 2016, Prince said.

“We want every single child to grow up in homes with books in the Brazos Valley,” she said. “We want our community to be the one that access to children’s books and literacy is just not an issue. So we’re going to keep working.”

Before cutting the ribbon, representatives from the Bryan and College Station school districts, College Station Councilmember Elizabeth Cunha and members of the Bryan-College Station Chamber of Commerce recognized the Cunningham sisters for their work.

“It is not just an idea; it’s not just an organization. It truly is a legacy,” Greg Zweiacker, immediate past board chair of the Chamber, said. “So on behalf of the board of directors, thank you very much.”

“Thank you for listening to two little girls who truly believed it was unfair that not all children have access to books,” Harper said in her remarks to the crowd of community supporters.




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