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Meet Ali and Ethan Posner of Ethan & Choco’s Book Club in Orange County

Today we’d like to introduce you to Ali and Ethan Posner.

Ali and Ethan, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
Ethan: “I’m Ethan and I’m 10 years old. When I was 7, I was diagnosed with leukemia at CHOC Children’s Hospital. I noticed that at the hospital there were hardly any books and you never saw patients reading or being read to. I am a very big reading enthusiast and I thought it was crazy that they had so much great stuff like art and tons of technology but no books. So, I started a nonprofit called Ethan & Choco’s Book Club (Choco is the CHOC mascot) with the goal to bring reading aloud, books and eventually a real, stand-alone lending library to CHOC.”

Ali: I’m Ethan’s mom and co-founder of Ethan & Choco’s Book Club (ECBC). In September 2014, a few months prior to Ethan’s diagnosis, I visited CHOC Children’s Hospital with my friend Audra Wilford, friend and Chief Hope Officer of the MaxLove Project. While visiting a playroom, I asked one of the hospital Child Life volunteers where all the books were and the volunteer responded, “These kids have cancer; they don’t need books.” I was astounded by this response and wanted to do something about it — and then a month later, Ethan was diagnosed with cancer and we experienced firsthand just how scarce books and reading were in the daily lives of CHOC patients. After making it through the first year of treatment, which is the hardest part of Ethan’s 3 1/2 year battle with leukemia, Ethan and I founded Ethan & Choco’s Book Club in order to make sure that access to books and reading are a salient part of the landscape of hospitalized kids’ lives. We spent the first year raising funds, awareness and “book-raising”. After year two, we now have about 8000 new books, we are giving books away regularly at hospital events and are about to start a bedside reading program (called “Reading Aloud in Every Room”) that involves trained volunteers visiting patient rooms and doing high-quality read alouds that nurture good thinking, literacy skills and social connections. We are also working on getting mobile library carts onto the floors, where the carts function like true lending libraries. The ultimate goal is the creation of a beautiful physical library where patients can visit, read, attend storytimes and other literacy events and have shared and connecting experiences around books and reading. California children’s hospitals don’t have lending libraries, so we hope to create a successful model for other hospitals to do the same!

Has it been a smooth road?
Ali: We’re only 2 years into this, so we’re really still in infancy as far as starting a nonprofit goes. There have been many challenges, including getting volunteers through the lengthy volunteer approval process, getting meetings with the appropriate people, trying to spread awareness of our cause beyond family and friends. I think our biggest challenges are yet to come — one of which will be trying to create a lending library (where books are borrowed and returned) within a culture of giving away everything. The greatest challenge will probably be getting SPACE at CHOC — which is limited, requires significant funds, and may be a hard sell in the context of space demands for other more “direct” medical needs. I also should mention the challenge of trying to start a nonprofit project while our family was still going through active Leukemia treatment. It has often been more than I felt like I could manage — but it has become a passion project for Ethan and me, and so worth it.

Ethan: “When I first started Ethan & Choco’s Book Club, I challenged myself to make a video reviewing a book that we wanted for the hospital on every day of 2016, which my mom would post on social media. My parents said they thought I should do the video just once a week but I really wanted to do it everyday. I did — I made 366 videos (it was leap year), sometimes with the help of my siblings. It was really hard because I was on chemo every day and sometimes a lot of chemo and I was really tired and not feeling good. But, I didn’t want to stop my challenge, so I always forced myself to do a “book look” even when I wasn’t feeling good. This was often hard. But it was worth it — because once I started, books started coming in the mail EVERY DAY!

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Ethan & Choco’s Book Club – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
Ali: Most of this is answered above… our mission is to ensure that kids’ care in the hospital includes books and being read to. Books and reading are critically important for optimal developmental outcomes — predicting cognitive, academic and social success. Yet kids in the hospital, especially those who who are battling life-threatening or chronic illnesses, tend to have less access to books and literature-based experiences. They also may be out of school for extended periods of times; have limited experiences that build world knowledge, vocabulary and language; and some kids have a medical condition or are receiving treatment that affects cognition (such as chemotherapy to the central nervous system for kids with Leukemia). Thus, hospitalized kids are a subset of children that have a particularly heightened need to receive the benefits of books. Currently we are bringing reading to patients by:
– hosting monthly “Super Book Give-Away parties” in the lobby at CHOC Children’s Hospital;
– delivering new books to CHOC’s outpatient infusion center to keep their shelves stocked;
– hosting events such as “Books for Treats” on Halloween (where patients trick or treated for books) and radio shows with storytime and book giveaways;
– delivering book boxes (called “Read+Think+Thrive Boxes) to kids at CHOC who are newly diagnosed with cancer… this year we’re aiming to give a box to every new cancer diagnosis.

In the coming months, we will be:
– reading aloud to patients with our new bedside reader program, using our new “Read Aloud Wagon”;
– getting books into the rooms of patients who are in isolation with our Gifting Library Book Cart;
– creating mobile Lending Library Carts that allow patients to check in and out books and offer variety in book type, topics, and genres;
– provide parent education for families who are in the hospital about the importance of reading with kids through treatment and how to make read alouds most effective.

What sets us apart is that currently California hospitals give away their books — but they lack a lending library and formal read-aloud programs.

We’re proud of what we’re doing with ECBC for many reasons. We’re proud to be giving back to a hospital that is so wonderful and has done so much for Ethan. We’re proud that, with ECBC, we have found a way to make cancer GIVE, not just take… Ethan is an avid reader and he noticed a big gap in patients’ experience at CHOC. I’m an educational psychologist, with most my published work in the area of early literacy. So we’re proud to be able to make a difference in a way that is both personally meaningful and tied to my expertise. I’m proud that I want to be working on this project for a long time, hopefully making a difference at not just CHOC but at other hospitals in California and beyond.

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Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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