By Carol Cain
Barbara Bush is bringing her foundation to end family illiteracy to Michigan with a little help from former Gov. Jeb Bush and Doro Bush Koch — as the former First Lady’s family rallies around her mission of ending the growing epidemic.
The Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy will introduce a baby journal in Michigan aimed at new moms that will be given at hospitals called “Love, Read, Learn.”
And there are plans to partner with a charter school in Detroit to provide family literary services this fall.
“Individuals, communities and states must step up if we are to succeed in creating a nation where everyone has a chance to learn the skills they need to succeed as parents, workers, and citizens,” Mrs. Bush said.
Mrs. Bush appeared in Grand Rapids on Monday with daughter-in-law and former First Lady Laura Bush at the Gerald R. Ford Foundation luncheon which is being held to celebrate the 95th birthday of First Lady Betty Ford and role of First Ladies.
The luncheon was hosted by Maria DeVos and Liesel Meijer.
Few First Ladies have had the kind of lasting impact on one issue as Barbara Pierce Bush.
She’s been relentless in fighting illiteracy which can happen when an issue hits home.
Mrs. Bush is the matriarch of the political powerhouse Republican family. Married to former President George H. W. Bush, she’s mom to former President George W. Bush, Jeb Bush, businessman Neil Bush and daughter Doro Bush Koch. The couple also had another daughter who died of leukemia as a child.
It was very different decades ago for the young mom trying to figure out how to help her son, Neil, who was having trouble reading. He was diagnosed with dyslexia.
“Mom spent hours and hours reading with him,” daughter Doro Bush Koch recalled as her brother overcame his disability.
That experience of seeing her son suffer left an imprint on her. She wondered about children who didn’t have parents willing or able to help because they too were illiterate.
As her family grew older and her husband’s career flourished, Mrs. Bush never forget those children and wondered about problems they may have had because they could not read.
Once in the White House, she had the bully pulpit and launched her foundation almost 25 years ago.
“The rewards of reading and earning a good education are limitless,” said Mrs Bush.
“The stark reality of illiteracy can burden families and futures for generations. Today, there are 30 million Americans who are illiterate, unable to help their own children succeed in school and life,” she said.
Her foundation started with a mission of creating and expanding classrooms where families and children could learn to read together just as she and Neil did years earlier.
Since then, the non-profit has invested over $50 million in grants to 1,200 literacy programs.
Mrs. Bush, who turns 88 in June, told Koch she was ready to slow down which is when Koch and Jeb Bush decided to help and are now co-chairing the foundation. Mrs. Bush remains an active advisor.
The two offspring have plans to take the foundation national.
The Great Lakes State Push
Michigan is one of the largest states that the foundation — based in Tallahassee, Fla, — is turning its attention to. Its focus has been in Texas, Maine, Florida, Maryland – home states of the Bush family.
The foundation will also expand to Alabama, Connecticut, South Carolina, North Carolina, Nebraska, Louisiana, Ohio, Mississippi, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Arkansas.
Jeb Bush has spent much of his time on education reform since leaving the governor’s office. He was in Lansing two years ago speaking to the state legislatures on the topic.
And he is scheduled as a keynote speaker at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference in late May.
“Through my mom’s efforts, I recognize that family literacy must be part of the nation’s education reform conversation and solutions,” he said.
The newly appointed director of the foundation, Liza McFadden, who lives in Florida, said they decided to expand in Michigan because of its approach to education.
“Michigan is important as it is a leader in charter schools,” said McFadden. “The uniqueness of Michigan’s education reform makes it something we are taking a look at.”
She added that the foundation’s giving money to literacy programs, “is sort of like Johnny Appleseed round the country. Only it’s for parents and their children and learning to read.”
Rob Tiede, an auto executive in Metro Detroit, will guide the foundation’s efforts in Michigan.
Now 38, he met Gov. Jeb Bush at a political event when just 18. He befriended the family and is close pals with Jeb’s oldest son, Jeb P., who is running for land commissioner in the state of Texas.
Tiede talked about Mrs. Bush’s impact in addressing the illiteracy problem.
“The Barbara Bush Foundation has been making an amazing impact on the landscape of our society, one mother and one child at a time,” said Tiede. “I am honored to be a member of her team.”
The foundation has been raising money though Celebration of Reading events with well-known authors. Like most non-profits is looking for potential donors and sponsors of things like the educational baby journal in Michigan.
Mrs. Bush’s appearance in Michigan is the latest in a long line of family visits.
Barbara and George Bush lived in Trenton, Mich. for a time during World War II while he served in the Navy and was stationed here.
Flash forward to the 1980 Republican Convention in Pontiac where Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush got the nod and the duo went on to win the White House.
Koch has also been to the state many times campaigning for her family as Michigan remains a critical swing state in national elections.
Speaking of her father, who was hospitalized in very serious condition earlier this year, Koch said he is continuing to improve.
“He wants to go to Maine next month with the family. That’s his goal,” Koch said.
The entire Bush clan is also gearing up for the upcoming dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas on April 25 when the family will be joined by Presidents Barack and Michele Obama, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter.
With so much going on in the Bush household, the mission of what Barbara Bush intended when she started her foundation is never far removed from the family’s conversations.
“One-hundred percent literacy is our motto,” said Koch.
For more: www.barbarabushfoundation.com or 850-562-5300.
Carol Cain is the Emmy-winning host of “Michigan Matters.”