By Bernardo Fallas
Phillips 66 Corporate Communications
For nearly six years, Phillips 66 and the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation have shared a vision: Improve lives through the power of literacy.
So when, weeks before her passing, the former first lady challenged her foundation to find a way to transform a local library into a place where children and their families could bond through reading, the foundation knew where to turn.
In partnership with Phillips 66, the foundation presented the Harris County Public Library system with a $200,000 donation in June 2018 to fund eight Family Place Libraries at Houston-area branches. The first opened recently in the suburb of Spring, Texas.
"Phillips 66 is truly a point of light for other businesses to follow," said Julie Baker Finck, president of the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation. "It's been a critical partner since the foundation was formed by the Bush family, and its support has led to the creation of several signature literacy programs that have already increased literacy rates among children in our city."
The George and Barbara Bush Family Place, complete with a colorful, wall-size mural depicting such children’s fiction and animated classics as "Clifford the Big Red Dog," Dorothy and friends from the "Wizard of Oz" and "the Magic School Bus," opened March 19 at the Barbara Bush Branch Library. The library re-opened in 2018 after suffering extensive flooding from Hurricane Harvey.
Family Place Libraries are part of a national initiative intended to transform spaces within libraries into community centers for literacy, with special focus on early childhood development. In addition to a dedicated physical space, the libraries and staff benefit from specialized training and programs geared toward toddlers and their parents.
"We are delighted to honor the legacy of Barbara Bush and pay tribute to her in such a special way," said Phillips 66 Chairman and CEO Greg Garland, who also serves on the foundation’s board of directors.
Phillips 66 has donated nearly $3.5 million since the foundation’s inception in 2013, and employee volunteers have contributed many hours reading to area schoolchildren.
Bush believed literacy could empower people to succeed. The Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation was established by Neil and Maria Bush, the former first couple's son and daughter-in-law, to advance her literacy legacy in the nation’s fourth-largest city.
Houston ranked 70th in literacy among more than 80 of the most populous U.S. cities in a recent survey, and the foundation estimates that 60 percent of area children entering kindergarten each year lack requisite reading skills.
Bush did not live to see the Family Place Libraries realized, dying April 17, 2018, at home in Houston at 92. Her husband of 73 years, former President George H.W. Bush, died Nov. 30.
Her vision, however, lives on.
"Barbara Bush provided clear vision and strong leadership for literacy," Garland said. "We must be sure to uphold her vision across Houston and the United States."