BGCA’s Susan Ciavolino is back to share how one Club is making an impact on literacy in their community, and one little initiative to consider.
“Take a look, it’s in a book…a reading rainbow!” Makes me smile to think of all the Reading Rainbow shows my family watched. Reading books together inspired so many adventures for us. My kids led the neighborhood on their own Lewis and Clark expeditions. Mr. Poppers Penguin’s had them dressing up as penguins and shuffling around the house. They even read spy novels and created Spy Guy movies that make us laugh to this day. All because we read a story that caught their imagination. It’s one of the most wonderful outcomes of learning to read and sharing stories together.
Getting books into the hands of children and families is an essential part of an strategy to build community literacy. Not only does research tell us that the single most significant factor influencing a child’s early educational success is an introduction to books and being read to at home prior to beginning school, but we know that the number of books in the home is as important as the parents’ education level in predicting a child’s academic performance. As a lover of books, it thrills me that just being around books directly impacts a child’s engagement in reading and learning.
Boys & Girls Clubs of South Alabama has created the “Read, Learn, Achieve Initiative” to address the low reading proficiency and the lack of interest in reading for fun in their community. I chatted with Rosa Monteiro, Director of Academic Success, about the work she is leading at their organization. They have an approach to literacy that targets this exact thing: getting more books into the hands of youth and families.
Back in 2019, Rosa led the establishment of the Gulf Coast Children’s Book Festival, created by BGC of South Alabama, where over 4000 youth visited it the first year. School leadership, former colleagues, and other community groups rallied to support this unique event. School groups and families were able to meet authors, listen to stories all day, and get books of their own to take home.
The book festival grew out of the Blue Roof Reading Spot initiative, which allowed the Club to partner with local businesses to set up book displays in barbershops, doctor’s offices, courthouses—any place families might need to wait. Youth primarily read those books onsite and they were even able to read them aloud to a reading buddy, who might be another person waiting or the barber cutting their hair.
And they aren’t done yet! BGC of South Alabama also has their own version of Little Free Libraries–it’s called the Blue Roof Library Trail, with over 30 small libraries all over Mobile, Al. “We call Ms. Rosa our own Bob the Builder. She has designed her own Library plans and cuts all the wood and prepares the materials so that groups are able to build and decorate them for themselves,” explained Tim Wills, CEO of BGC of South Alabama.
Rosa described the partnerships: “It’s a great community project. We let the company or organization that is sponsoring it decide how they want to decorate it, so they feel a sense of ownership.” A local TV station hosted a build event where they created 10 of the library structures. This inspired the Director of Community Engagement at the University of South Alabama to sponsor a build day for the MLK holiday where they built another 11! The Blue Roof Libraries are spread all over parks, schools, neighborhoods, and (of course!) Clubs in the region.
It’s a trail of libraries, so there is a map to follow! And it’s interactive so everyone can see where they are and community partners can even see where they could add one.
There is one very special one that inspired me. The Torch Club at the Chastang Branch of BGCSA built their own library, decorated it, and then installed it in a local community center. The Club director, asked them what they liked most about the project. Their answers were classic Torch Club. “I’m proud of myself because I helped others.” “I got to try new things and use a hammer.” One member explained it this way: “Everything. I liked the customization. I love drawing, painting, and everything else…I was with my friends, and we all had a great time… like the best time ever!”
Their advisor, Zach Todd, was excited by their response to the project. “Seeing the kids do Torch Club projects as I did back when I was a Torch Club Member put a huge smile on my face!” During the pandemic, they even added some food pantry-type items to better respond to the community needs. The project was an exciting blend of learning and personal growth while serving others; in other words, a perfect Torch Club project for this group of tweens and teens! Check out this video of them describing their experience:
The breadth and depth of BGC of South Alabama’s literacy investment is making an impact all over the community. Their comprehensive approach to supporting community literacy has allowed them to emerge as education leaders in their region.
But the question is: how can you get started? A Little Free Library is a great starting point to getting books in the hands of children and youth. The world-wide initiative began in 2012 and has placed over 100,000 libraries in locations as diverse as Antarctica, refugee camps South Africa, and every state across the United States. Library Stewards build, place, and maintain weatherproof “book boxes” that make free books available to readers of all ages.
There are step by step directions for establishing the initiative in your community at LittleFreeLibrary.org. You can design and build your own or you can purchase kits that are easier to complete. Either way, you get to decorate and personalize in a way that can ensure the library reflects the culture of your community.
Of course, it all takes funding! But that’s not as hard as it might feel. Locally, look for potential partnerships for sponsoring, building, decorating, maintaining, etc. A group could work with your Torch Club or do it themselves. The Little Free Library organization also has an Impact Library Program where they provide kits for building and installing at no cost. Filling out the application could be yet another great project for your Torch or Keystone Club, though the actual sponsor must be over 18. There is even a targeted initiative to place these on Tribal Lands.
And if you’re like Rosa, aka South Alabama’s Bob the Builder, you can build your own from scratch. She has the cost down to about $100 for supplies per library. And she is happy to share her plans and strategies with you! Additionally, on the LFL website and all over the internet, you can find many unique approaches and the plans to build them. Take a look at some of these fun examples.
So many options! Take a look, it’s in a book…create your own Reading Rainbow in your community!
And Susan is the proud steward of her own newly opened Little Free Library (Number 127873) just outside Atlanta! You can see it at TheBeeLibrary.com.
PLUS When we asked the YD Facebook group what people were doing around literacy, it was so fun to hear of Little Free Libraries, Reading Buddies, Reader’s Theatre, and other fun, engaging ways of inspiring a love of reading. We have an upcoming webinar where you can hear more from local staff about their initiatives—some in the Club and some outside. It’s a great opportunity to find inspiration to create your own initiative. Register for the September 21 webinar here.