NEW BRITAIN - The Parent Expressâ€™ â€śTis the Season to be Readingâ€ť bus tour made a stop at the New Britain Public Library Friday to give away books to children in need.
The bus is decorated as a mobile classroom, with posters in English and Spanish spreading positive messages and educational information.
Gwen Samuel, founder of the Connecticut Parents Union, started the bus tour six years ago as a way to spread empowerment and holiday cheer.
Each December, the Parent Express visits 10 cities for three days, giving away 1,000 books.
In 2012, days before the tour was scheduled to start, the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School took place.
Samuel decided to change that yearâ€™s format, and the bus became the â€śCoping and Caring Parent Expressâ€ť - dedicated to promoting healing.
Samuel said everyone made cards and grief counselors were on hand. In addition, she said, she received an abundance of books that year from authors and publishers who wanted to help.
â€śItâ€™s about community and empowerment despite income or race. It puts a face to education and brings it to the most vulnerable population.
Since 2011, Samuel said, more than 4,000 books have been given out.
She added that hats, gloves and scarves also have been distributed.
Aboard the bus are three high school seniors who volunteer with her, including her son, Elijah Adonai.
â€śItâ€™s a great way to give back to the community who donâ€™t get to have these experiences,â€ť Adonai said.
Tionna Longs, 17, was dressed up as the character Olaf from Disneyâ€™s â€śFrozen.â€ť
â€śItâ€™s really fun passing out books and seeing their faces light up,â€ť Longs said.
While the effort targets Head Start and early childhood development, Samuel said, it also helps older children.
â€śFrom the womb to college, we support them. Itâ€™s about meeting children where they are,â€ť Samuel said. â€śAll children matter.â€ť
Older youth get assistance with job applications and registering how to vote. Boys get free ties and help in learning how to tie them.
â€śEverything is so tense right now in terms of politics,â€ť Samuel said. â€śPeople are always saying children are the future, but what are we doing today?â€ť
Aside from learning the ABCâ€™s and 123, Samuel said the Parent Express teaches character building and how to be productive citizens.
What she learns from the children and talking to their parents, Samuel also brings to lawmakers to make sure theyâ€™re meeting childrenâ€™s needs.
â€śAt the end of the day, we have to do better for children.â€ť