Bringing the Library to Them: Texan Volunteer Helps Children Learn and Love to Read

Daily Point of Light # 7528 Apr 11, 2023

Meet Daily Point of Light Award honoree Betty Hrncir. April is Global Volunteer Month, a global movement to recognize volunteers and people who actively support their communities, whether through volunteerism or other elements around the Points of Light Civic Circle®, like Betty. Read her story, and join the Global Volunteer Month celebration. 

While most people have heard of Batman and his trusty Batmobile, you might be surprised to hear that Houston has its own set of superheroes – Owlbotron and Northtale. Instead of fighting crime, the “Super Owl” and “Super Fox” duo combat illiteracy. And instead of a Batmobile, they jump around neighborhood to neighborhood in their Curiosity Cruiser, a mobile library filled with hundreds of children’s books.  

When the Curiosity Cruiser drops by community centers and schools around Houston, children will run to Owlbotron and Northtale to greet them. But little do they know that the real-life superheroes are the ones working behind the scenes of the Curiosity Cruiser, such as today’s Daily Point of Light Award honoree, Betty Hrncir.  

Betty Hrncir is a co-founder of the Ladies for Literacy Guild, a volunteer auxiliary group of the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation. Since starting the Guild back in 2015 with co-founder Julie Baker Finck, Betty has helped grow the Guild to nearly 400 members, all working to keep the legacy of the late former First Lady Barbara Bush alive by advocating the power of literacy.  

One of the Guild’s greatest feats was launching the Curiosity Cruiser mobile library initiative in partnership with the Harris County Public Library in 2017. With a fleet of four state-of-the-art mobile libraries, tens of thousands of children from historically underserved communities in Houston have been able to pick out their own books from the Curiosity Cruiser for free. The Curiosity Cruiser initiative also provides access to STEM and reading programs after school and during the summer.  

Through her volunteer work fighting for literacy, Betty Hrncir (right) keeps the legacy of the late Barbara Bush (left) alive./ Courtesy Betty Hrncir

“Two out of every five Houston children fail to read at or above grade level by the end of third grade. Research shows that when a child does not read on grade level by this academic milestone, they are four times more likely to drop out of school,” Betty said. “We want children to have access to the endless opportunities our country has to offer and for them to realize their fullest potential in life. We recognize that can only be achieved if they have strong reading skills. The Curiosity Cruiser has helped us accomplish this, fostering a culture of reading across Houston and lifting literacy rates among children of low-income neighborhoods.”   

With Betty at the helm, the Guild also established the Power of Literacy Luncheon, which has raised more than $1.5 million over the years. On top of keeping the Curiosity Cruisers stocked, the funds have gone towards helping families build their own home libraries and installing children’s libraries at four social service facilities including at New Hope Housing, an affordable apartment development serving families that are unhoused or placed at-risk.

“Betty has played an instrumental role in forming the Ladies for Literacy Guild, which has become a driving force for good in advancing the mission of the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation and Barbara Bush’s vision of ‘literacy for all,’” said Julie Baker Finck, the Guild’s other co-founder and President & CEO of the Foundation. “Betty is truly a point of light who has enlisted other points of light, all collectively creating a laser focus on improving lives through literacy.” 

Northtale, Owlbotron and Houston Rockets’ mascot Clutch read in front of the Curiosity Cruiser with a young Rockets fan./Courtesy Curiosity Cruiser

After serving as the inaugural president of the Guild for two years, Betty went on to serve as Co-chair of the Grants Committee and then as Co-Chair of the Power of Literacy Luncheon. Today, Betty is a member at large, continuing to advise the Guild’s current leaders and volunteering wherever she can. She has also served for the past two years as a Guild volunteer at Clemente Martinez Elementary School, where she reads to her “adopted” classroom regularly.  

“It’s so important to me to foster Mrs. Bush’s legacy of championing literacy. This was what she took on for life,” Betty said. “As we continue our work, we will strive to improve literacy across our city, which is one of the largest and most diverse in the country.” 

Join the Global Volunteer Month celebration! Download our Global Volunteer Month toolkits and access resources to encourage volunteerism and civic action, recognize volunteers, and raise awareness for your organization’s needs and funding opportunities.   

Alicia Lee