Young Learners Get Ahead Through KenCrest’s Raising a Reader


KenCrest, in partnership with PNC and the William Penn Foundation, encourages young learners to get ahead in their education through its Raising a Reader program and our community-based Lending Libraries.

By Sydney Kerelo

Reading is an essential skill for young children; it improves their cognitive abilities and mental health and helps them perform better in academic settings. However, according to a National Assessment of Educational Progress report, only 37 percent of fourth-graders and 34 percent of eighth-graders in the United States are proficient in reading.

Studies have shown that children exposed to reading before preschool tend to develop a more extensive vocabulary and are likelier to succeed in formal education. However, not all children have access to books or other reading materials.

In 2019, KenCrest started its Raising a Reader program to help students in Early Learning Centers (ELCs) have access to books at home and establish reading routines with their families.

For years, the Executive Director of KenCrest’s ELCs, Melanie Brennan, noticed students asking to take their favorite school books home. Reading to  toddlers and young children helps them learn to listen, form words from sounds they hear, and develop a broader vocabulary. Early exposure to reading is integral to students' academic success later in life, which many parents don’t realize.

KenCrest’s Raising a Reader program empowers parents and their children to read books at home. Each center that offers the program has red bags filled with four books, ranging from picture stories to STEM books to multicultural stories. There are even books in two languages for bilingual families. Every Monday, the students are given a bag to take home to return on Thursday, and each week, they get a different set of books with the hope that by the end of the school year, each student will have read various books.

“This program changes the lives of our young students and their families,” says Everene Williams, KenCrest’s Literacy Facilitator. “Especially those in Philadelphia because we are connected with other initial early childhood literacy initiatives throughout the city to network with anyone with the same goal in mind.” Everene facilitates Parent Education groups connected with the Raising A Reader Project.


One partner, PNC, is helping KenCrest bring reading to life through the Little Lending Library Project. On its 15th anniversary, as part of PNC’s Grow Up Great program, the bank decided to donate over 15,000 children’s books to the community, including at KenCrest. PNC staff built "Little Library" bookshelves outside our centers for the community to access.

“As part of our 15th anniversary, we wanted to find a way to get more children’s books directly into the hands of our city’s kids and families,” says Kara LaFleur, the Vice President and Assistant Director of PNC Client and Community Relations. “The Little Library Project seemed to fit the bill! We invited PNC employees to decorate, paint, and assemble the Little Libraries, and with a lot of help from our PNC Realty Services/Building Operations colleagues, we installed several libraries outside of KenCrest’s Early Learning Centers.”

"This program changes the lives of our young students and their families."

Everene Williams, KenCrest's Literacy Facilitator


Raising-a-ReaderEach library was donated by PNC or PNC employees so KenCrest students, families, and other community members could help themselves with a new book. The company more than doubled the number of books donated, ultimately donating more than 38,000 books to preschool students and their families in the greater Philadelphia/South Jersey area in 2019.

“What we could never have anticipated, though, was just how important these little libraries would become during the early days of COVID-19, when so many places, including public libraries, were shut down for weeks on end,” says LaFleur. “KenCrest shared with us that families continued to visit the Little Lending Libraries—often during daily walks. They see them as an asset to their neighborhoods and a bright spot in their day since each is decorated differently with bright colors and fun illustrations.”

Children who have early access to books, a learning-rich home environment, and high-quality early education are far more likely than their peers to meet various developmental goals and are more likely to succeed in school. Making more books available to families—especially those facing economic challenges—is critical to helping kids learn and thrive. Plus, reading together creates a lasting bond between parents and their children.

According to Nationwide Children, snuggling up with a book together as a family can strengthen the physical and emotional bond between adults and children. Hearing the voice of their loved one can not only be soothing and provide a sense of security, but it can also help the brain form meaningful connections.