At the end of June, we wrapped up North Carolina’s second annual Give Five – Read Five campaign. Statewide, 150 public schools from 53 local districts collected a total of 277,334 books—more than double the amount of books collected last year by just 74 schools. All of these books were sent home with students at the end of the school year so children can continue reading while they are away from the classroom. Everyone understands how important it is for young people to build reading skills so schools worked with nonprofit groups, community organizations and businesses across the state to collect books. But Libby Bowes, a high school senior from Garner, assembled a team of youth from her church and went above and beyond just collecting a few books for a local school. With help from members of her church congregation and others in her community, Libby collected more than 27,000 books for students in eight local elementary schools. In the below letter, Libby shares the story of her wonderful work. I hope that her words will inspire you to read with a student this summer and that you will choose to support the Give Five – Read Five campaign in your community next year.
June St. Clair Atkinson
My name is Libby Bowes and I am 18 years old. Over the past nine months I have been the team leader for the Give Five - Read Five initiative at my church. My committee was made up of five high school students and six adults, all from the Garner area. We had two things in common: a supportive church congregation and the desire to help kids in need. This program enables children who do not have resources at home to receive five books to take home over the summer. According to research, students who do read over the summer will fall behind by two to three reading levels.
In August of 2013, my team met to design the foundation for our work. For a small committee, we had big hopes and wanted the most success out of our work as possible. After brainstorming and researching, we decided to pick eight local elementary schools in our area for which we would collect books. In order to provide five books to each student at each of the schools we selected, we would have to collect approximately 20,000 books. We knew that accomplishing this goal would be a huge task and we would require lots of help so we got right to work.
I asked the youth on my team to serve as media consultants and community outreach liaisons. Since we had no funding, any advertising or publicity we received would have to come at no cost. The good news was that a local newspaper picked up on our project and wrote an article about our efforts. We got some publicity as the paper also promoted our book donation sites that were scattered around the community. With the help of some members of our congregation, we secured a warehouse in which we could store and organize all donations. As the project progressed, books began piling up in our warehouse but our 20,000 book goal still seemed far from our reach.
As a team, we connected with NCDPI staff members and presented our plan and our goal to State Board of Education members at their meeting in March. After these events, we received monetary donations and large book donations began increasing our collection numbers. And it turns out that by end of the book drive, we had reached and exceeded our goal by collecting 27,000 books. But the best part was yet to come. Soon it would be time to give the books to teachers and children.
In mid-May, we set aside a few days of the week for “shopping” purposes. The teachers from the eight elementary schools were able to come to the warehouse and select books for their students. We knew that teachers would be the best shoppers because who knows a student’s needs better than a teacher? Our Give Five – Read Five project was truly a community effort. There was no way one church and a small committee could accomplish this type of effort on our own. Community support was the biggest reason we were so successful and we are so grateful for all the partnerships we built as we worked toward our final goal.
Collecting, storing, sorting and distributing 27,000 books to eight schools was certainly not an easy task but we were never discouraged. With plenty of help, our team was able to not only meet our goal, but blow it out of the water. As the months went by, we recorded our successes, what worked and what didn’t, and how we moved forward in this important work. We plan to finalize and share our “How To” guide with anyone who wants to participate in the campaign next year. I believe that our work proved anyone can collect books for Give Five – Read Five and make a difference. All that you will need a goal, a plan, and help. The best part about this project for me came from seeing the responses from teachers and kids when they picked up books. They were so appreciative of the work we did. This was a reminder for me that our work was not just for strangers, it was for my community. I encourage you to help with the 2015 Give Five – Read Five campaign so you can make a difference too.