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Lightning Foundation Grant Spotlight: Bess the Book Bus

by Erin Chenderlin / Tampa Bay Lightning

On April 23, the Lightning Foundation awarded grants to 16 local organizations totaling $120,500 at the Community Awards and Donor Recognition Reception. Grant applicants were asked to detail their organizations and give a proposed program or project, along with a description of how it qualifies under the Lightning Foundation's funding guidelines. The Foundation's Board of Directors selected the 16 organizations. is profiling each of the organizations and the grant they received. Check back daily for a new organization and see how the Lightning Foundation is truly fulfilling its mission to make Tampa Bay a better place to live, work and play.

Bess the Book Bus

The Lightning Foundation is always looking for ways to promote and encourage reading and education throughout the Tampa Bay area. For the second year in a row, the Foundation awarded a grant to an organization with the same goals and expectations.

At its end of the year awards ceremony, the Lightning Foundation continued a grant award to Bess the Book Bus, Inc. for its Mobile Literacy Outreach Program.

"Our main focus is serving families in Hillsborough County," said Jennifer Pierce, executive director of Bess the Book Bus, Inc. "What we're trying to do is bridge the enrichment gap and we're trying to build home libraries for families that otherwise would not have the opportunity to own books."

The funds given by the Foundation will be used for purchasing books and educational materials for the Book Bus, as well as to help with special event expenses and training new volunteers. Finally, the award will be used to help with vehicle and travel expenses.

"It is magnificent," Pierce said of the grant. "I think really the best part about getting the Lightning grant is that it’s the community supporting itself. The community collaborations are the most important thing we have."

Bess the Book Bus, Inc. is a mobile literacy outreach that is dedicated to providing more than 27,000 books every year to underprivileged children and families. It is hoped that, with the continued support from the Lightning Foundation and the community, Bess the Book Bus, Inc. will continue to expand its current services to new locations. Pierce said with the grant funds awarded by the Lightning Foundation, Bess the Book Bus will continue to grow and should be able to give out more than 30,000 books in the coming year. It is their hope, Pierce said, to give the children they visit no less than 10 books per year.

Through all its community efforts, Bess the Book Bus, Inc. hopes to generate an avid enthusiasm for reading in local children and express the importance of families reading together. Pierce said that while the kids don't always recognize it, the Book Bus gets them excited about the prospect of reading. She hopes that feeling stays with them throughout their lives.

"That is what really happens, you build lifelong readers," she said.

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