Leaders attending First Book event
Leaders from PEF and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) were joined by representatives from the Office of Mental Health (OMH) and the Governor’s Office at the First Book event January 6. From left to right: Division 213 Council Leader Leticia Rivera, Region 10 Coordinator Radhakrishna Mohan, OMH Executive Deputy Commissioner Moira Tashjian, AFT Executive Vice President Evelyn DeJesus, OMH Commissioner Ann Sullivan, President Spence and Deputy Secretary for Human Services and Mental Hygiene for the Governor’s Office, Ji Hoon Kim.


PEF joined the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) to distribute books to kids at the Bronx and Queens campuses of the NYC Children’s Center on January 6 as part of the Reading Opens the World initiative.  

Between the two facilities, 60 kids had their pick of books donated by PEF and could take with them three titles of their choosing. About 70 union leaders and members came out to participate. 

“PEF members are dedicated to serving the people of New York and this is a great way to enrich the lives of our children and youth,” said PEF President Wayne Spence. “It’s great to empower these kids to choose books that speak to them and bring a little joy into their lives.” 

President Spence was joined by PEF leaders, including Vice President Darlene Williams, Secretary-Treasurer Joe Donahue, Region 10 Coordinator Radhakrishna Mohan, and Division 213 Council Leader Leticia Rivera, as well as AFT Vice President Evelyn DeJesus and Nadia Chanza, the chief of staff for Justice Center Executive Director Denise Miranda. 

“It was great seeing the kids select their books with such joy,” said Rivera. “The kids really loved being able to look through and pick their own books. They knew what kind of books they like and were able to select it without any objections and were very pleased. 

“A few even asked for a fourth book, and who can say no to that?” she said. “The highlight for me was watching the kids recite a speech and poem from Martin Luther King and Maya Angelou. I also loved the thank-you cards the kids made and presented to the First Book committee staff.” 

Rivera said the meet-and-greet conducted after the event between staff and PEF and OMH leaders was a huge success, as well.  

PEF held a couple Reading Opens the World events before the pandemic and President Spence has recommitted the union to the venture now that it is safer to hold in-person events. AFT awarded PEF a $5,000 grant from its Solidarity Fund so PEF could purchase the books.  

AFT and First Book celebrated 10 years of partnership in 2021 and over that decade distributed 7.5 million books nationwide. Since its founding in 1992, First Book has distributed more than 225 million books and educational resources. 

The next PEF Reading Opens the World event was held January 18 at an Office of Children and Family Services facility in Rochester. 

Grid of photos from First Book event in the Bronx