An adage often quoted to job seekers is "Do what you love and find a way to get paid for it." In JoAnn Fruchtman's book, the saying goes something like this: "Do what you love and find a way to help your community along the way." Fruchtman, owner of the Children's Bookstore in Baltimore, has embarked on a bold literature-based program that benefits teachers and students in the approximately 180 Baltimore city public schools. In December 1999 she founded the Children's Bookstore Educational Foundation, a charitable foundation that "provides books to entire classes to enhance existing programs." Through Fruchtman's efforts, teachers can obtain trade books for a whole classroom of students to use in conjunction with a specific teaching unit. The students in the class can then keep the books for their own.

Fruchtman found inspiration for the groundbreaking project in her ongoing experience as a children's bookseller. "I've been in the children's book business for almost 23 years now, and I adore what I do," she said. "But over the years I have increasingly been seeing a gap between the children who come in here and the children who never set foot in here. I wanted to find a way to get books to those kids who cannot come here."

Fruchtman had also noticed a growing number of city teachers coming into the store and spending their own money on books for their students. "I always gave the teachers fabulous discounts on multiple copies, but I still wondered what I could do to get books to those kids," she said.

Dialogue Is Key

One way Fruchtman knew she wouldn't get books to kids was by donating them. "Giveaways don't usually work," she explained. "It's important that the books become significant to the children, which happens when the book is taught. The object is for children to feel empowered by owning a book that means something to them."

The Foundation's mission follows that philosophy. Baltimore City teachers in grades K—12 who would like to acquire books for their class must first obtain permission from the school principal and then complete an application that gives details on the unit being taught and any other resource materials they will be using. At that point, Fruchtman or another Foundation employee advises the teachers on children's trade books that are applicable.

But Fruchtman's noble enterprise doesn't come without cost. Since the Foundation's inception, it has taken up more and more of Fruchtman's time and energy. With fund-raising as a major focus, "I have two full-time jobs now," she said. The Foundation operates out of Fruchtman's store, a situation that greatly cuts down on expenses. "I'm totally pro bono. Jenny Williams, manager of the store, is a Foundation employee, and she draws a small salary. But otherwise, we have no overhead."

To date, Fruchtman said that she has collected more than $20,000 in very small donations. "That support means so much to me; it's coming from lots of people who feel that this is a really direct way to help." She has also begun to see a return from the many corporations and private foundations she has solicited. "We got a $50,000 grant from the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation," she cited as an example. "They have promised $50,000 per year for three years, but we have to match the funds four-to-one." So far, so good: in 2000, Fruchtman successfully raised the necessary additional $200,000.

Her ultimate goal is far beyond that, though. "I hope to raise a $1-million endowment within three years, which will give us $50,000 per year for books in perpetuity." She estimates that such an annual sum could help "thousands of kids." In addition to her traditional fund-raising efforts, Fruchtman also holds book-signing events and several Book Browse store events throughout the year, with proceeds going to the Foundation.

The City of Baltimore is clearly grateful for Fruchtman's efforts. "We have the blessing of the school board and the mayor," she said. And though she is often asked why she does not extend the program beyond city limits to make it county-wide or regional, Fruchtman wants to focus on the strong ties she has to Baltimore proper. "I grew up in the city, my store is in the city," she commented. "And the city is where there is the greatest need."

Many book recipients have expressed their gratitude as well. "The letters I've gotten back from children, teachers and even some parents are extraordinary," Fruchtman noted. "For some children, we are providing the first book they've ever owned."

By 2002, Fruchtman hopes that the Children's Bookstore Educational Foundation will be self-sustaining. "I would like to put the endowment in place and not have two jobs forever," she said, only half joking.