Books offer adults an escape, a window into another world, and more importantly, opportunities to learn how to be self-reliant, gain new skills, or achieve personal growth and empowerment.

But children and young adults need to experience these opportunities too. They need a place where reading is encouraged and welcomed, a unique place where they can read, share books, feel part of the community they live in, in short, a place of their own. Until recently, there weren’t too many opportunities for these experiences in Easton.

Enter the Easton Area Community Center and the new Cops ‘n’ Kids Reading Room. Downstairs, this room is a place for children from pre-school through middle school age to drop in, and read, and experience the joys of books. By promoting literacy through the distribution of free books, the organizers-of the program hope to share the value and importance of reading with its young members.

“Over 60 percent of the children we work with have no books in their homes at all,” remarks Judith Dickerson, director of the Cops ‘n’ Kids program in Easton. “Our bottom line is to get the books into the hands of the people who need them.”

Each child who becomes a member of the program receives three free books to keep with each visit to the reading room. These books are new and gently used donations but for every book that comes out, Judith explains, the program needs books coming in.

Right now, permanent book drop-off sites are being established at several areas in Easton including the Community Center, Easton Police Department Headquarters, the River of God Fellowship Church, and the Family YMCA of Easton, Phillipsburg and Vicinity. No books are ever turned away, and donations are always welcome. Volunteers are also needed to store, shelve, process, and label about 300 books. While a spot has been designated at the Easton

Farmers’ Market, a volunteer is needed to bring the donation container out and back on each Saturday.

Dickerson, who previously worked as the director of an academic support program at County College of Morris in Randolph, NJ, moved to Palmer Township with her husband several years ago and sees the value in reaching children with reading at a young age. In fact, she believes it’s absolutely critical for them to read regularly at an early age in order to succeed later in life.

“If the children don’t get a really good start by third grade, the gap (in their education) is less likely to close,” says Dickerson. “Reading can open up whole new worlds. Reading allows you to dream.”

The closure of Borders stores proved to be fortunate timing for creating a space for the program in the lower level of the Easton Center, as Dickerson ended up acquiring free book shelves from stores that were throwing out their inventory, including its shelving fixtures. The Monarch Furniture store in Easton donated the rest of the furniture.

A sign hanging above the bookshelves designates the room as the Dominick J. Panto Educational Room. Panto, deceased, had served on the board of directors at the Easton center, which is now privately owned.

Back in 1997, Julia Burney Witherspoon, a police officer In Wisconsin, founded the first Cops ‘n’ Kids Program which went nationwide; there are more than forty Cops ‘n’ Kids Programs with reading rooms, and even programs in other countries, according to Dickerson.

At the Fowler Family Southside Center in Bethlehem; a Cops ‘n’ Kids Program has been operating successfully for five years, according to Dickerson, who hopes to build a similar program here.

The program at the Easton center opened June 4 and is run by DIckerson and Maureen Brehm, a volunteer, in addition to a cadre of six to eight regular volunteers. The program is completely grant-funded, with the Police Athletic League of Easton as the main sponsor. While the purpose of the program is to encourage reading, the organizers hope to use it to help improve children’s relationships with police officers and also to provide children a space to bond in a creative, and constructive way.

So what do the young participants think of the program? Since it opened in June, the program has served between 15 and 20 children, many of whom are repeat participants, including some visits from families in Allentown.

Brianna Robinson, 10, has been going to the reading room since it opened in June. She said she likes the reading room because you can pick out three books each time. Her favorite books are the Junie B. Jones series. “First I bring them to school and then I read them at home,” she adds.

Gabriel Chandler, age 10, has been going to the reading room for a few months. “There are a lot of choices of books and sometimes you can talk to your friends and read together,” shares Chandler.  He likes action books the best and often brings them to school. He also likes the reading room because there’s a couch to sit on.

Charline Adams, 16, has been reading the Twilight books and has read all four in the series. She has read about 16 books from the program and enjoys going to the reading room because her friends are there, it’s a quiet place to read, and staff are on hand to help you if you need it.

Though the Easton Police are often featured guest speakers, Mayor Panto usually makes the rounds, and the Fire Department is coming in October for Fire Prevention Month, complete with a fire truck demonstration. Dickerson would also like to get authors to be guest speakers who want to offer a fun activity connected to literacy. The Easton Block Watch has also helped conduct programs for Cops ‘n’ Kids and Dickerson mentions the program has also participated with various city organizations, including the Weed & Seed Summer Nights Program and the recent Crayola Factory 15th anniversary event where Cops ‘n’ Kids distributed about 1,000 books during a three-day celebration.

Future programs are being scheduled throughout the year on the first and third Saturdays of each month. Dickerson plans to use them to draw attention the Cops ‘n’ Kids initiative so that it can continue to grow.

On Saturday, October 8, the Easton Cops ‘n’ Kids Program will distribute books at Lukie’s Fall Festival, an event that will raise funds for muscular dystrophy research at Weona Park in Pen Argyl from 11:30am to 4pm. She also is looking to partner with local schools to coordinate reading programs and hopes to have a website up and running by December.

“With the support of the community, it’s just been a joyful journey for me,” states Dickerson; “I see it [Cops ‘n’ Kids Program] as the glue to pull some of the wonderful things already going on in the community together.”

The Cops ‘n ‘Kids Reading Room is located in the lower level of the Easton Area Community Center; 901 Washington Street, and is open to all children from pre-kindergarten age to middle school age every Thursday from 11 am to 7pm and the first and third Saturdays of the month from 10am to 12pm. To find out more about the program, call 610-250-6562 or visit them on Facebook.