“I remember that I was really excited to pick out a book and go to a college campus with all those kids and all those people,” said one of the first students to participate. She said she still has her book, Kitten’s First Full Moon, by Kevin Henkes.
And who wouldn’t remember that fantastic day? It’s evolved into an end-of-year Springfield tradition for first-graders across the district, and it works today pretty much the same way it has since the beginning.
“For many of us, this is the most fun day of the year,” says committee chair Liz Degner, a long-time Rotarian and area manager for the SMART reading program. “We’ve seen an awful lot of smiling faces through this program over the years. It’s such an honor to play a role in those magical moments when kids are learning to read.”
How it works: Each year, hundreds of first-graders swarm the Lane Community College campus in waves on one day at the end of May. The kids are greeted by their favorite book characters like Clifford and Wild Thing, then brought to the auditorium where they hear the story of the Queen Sue shared by John Jorgenson, whose Wyoming “Casper Cares, Casper Reads” book-giving program, created in his late wife’s memory, inspired the Gift of Literacy.
Soon, the auditorium fills with the joyful sound of “Sniggledy sneed, we want to read!” and the kids get to open their brand-new hardcover books, which they had chosen earlier in the school year from that year’s list of 10 books chosen by the all-volunteer Gift of Literacy committee.
It takes a village: The Gift of Literacy program and culminating event require a great deal of volunteers and resources to make happen. A committee led by Rotarians (who brought the idea to the school district back in 2005) and comprised of principals, teachers, public library staff and other community volunteers meet early in the school year to choose books, assemble resources and plan the event. The program relies heavily on hundreds of volunteers each year to manage the event and oversee the children.
“There are media personalities and legislators and community VIPs who come out year after year to read to the kids,” says Degner. “It means a lot for the kids to see so many important grown-ups who think reading is important.”
The program also relies heavily on businesses and donors to raise funds to pay for books and event logistics.
“It’s such an important and impactful program,” says Ronnel Curry, executive director of the Springfield Education Foundation, which donates significantly to the program each year. “For some of our high-need students, this might be the first book they own. It means so much to these kids to get the books, visit a college campus and meet community members who care about them. We couldn’t do it without our generous donors and volunteers.”
Coming up on May 27: After a year of anticipation from both teachers and students alike, Gift of Literacy is finally upon us, this time celebrating its 10-year anniversary of giving books to the children of Springfield.
It will mean more than 9,000 students touched by the program, nearly 2,200 library cards distributed and more than 27,000 items checked out on those cards.
It will mean 10 years of sharing the joy and wonder and magic of books and reading with children.
To learn more about the Gift of Literacy, visit www.giftofliteracy.org.
Many, many thanks to all of the Rotarians who have tirelessly stuffed book bags and stuck labels on books, to the teachers who shared the books with their classes, to the community members who came out in force to read to the kids, and to all of the hundreds of other volunteers and sponsors who played vital roles in making the program happen year after year!