Valencia College Literacy Project Donates Thousands of Books to Orange County Jail Inmates


Courtesy of Orlando Sentinel

Angelina Rosania, Contributing Writer

The Valencia College Literacy Project just ended its third book drive. A total of 2,360 books were collected and donated to inmates incarcerated at the Orange County Jail.

“Books were picked up from East and West Campuses and sent from Lake Nona and Osceola,” explained Karen Cowden, English and Reading Professor at Valencia College’s West Campus. She is the co-organizer of the program along with Dr. Nicole Spottke, who is also an English professor at Valencia.

In 2013, a reporter from the Orlando Sentinel wrote a report on behalf of the Orange County Jail seeking book donations for their inmates. Dr. Spottke and Cowden agreed that it would be a great idea to establish a Literacy Project on behalf of Valencia College. One year later, the Valencia College Literacy Project was born.

In 2015, 80 books were collected. The following year, more than 1,000 books were donated. “The inmates expressed gratitude, especially for the books that were in different languages because many of the inmates are Hispanic and so they expressed gratitude for having books in Spanish,” stated Lauren Gibson, Professor of English at Valencia College.

Cowden says a variety of books were donated for the inmates, including text books, self help, fiction, photography, poetry, and books in many different languages.

“Being incarcerated is incredibly destructive to the ego and mind so the inmates can escape the walls through reading,” and if “the spark is lit, they may realize that college might not be that hard,” Cowden said.

Organizers for the Literacy Project are looking to expand in the future by establishing a book club at the jail. This would be an opportunity for Valencia faculty and students to volunteer their time and help inspire those that are incarcerated to better themselves, set goals for their future and to cope with the reality of having lost their freedom.