A Kiwanis club in Arkansas, U.S., brings bookcases and books to kids. 

By Julie Saetre 

In April of this year, 50 children in Conway, Arkansas, U.S., eagerly gathered at the Conway Public Library for a special presentation. Soon, each child would be awarded a personalized bookcase, a starter kit of age-appropriate books and a “reading buddy” — a stuffed animal toy — courtesy of the Conway Kiwanis Club. 

The presentation marked the 19th year of the Conway Kiwanis Bookcase Project, founded in 2005 by club member Jim Davidson with the goal of promoting literacy at an early age and setting kids up to excel in education and future professions. The Kiwanis club assumed oversight of the project in 2020. 

Recipients are 4- and 5-year-old preschool children who are enrolled in three area Head Start centers; they are selected by the Community Action Program for Central Arkansas, the centers’ administrator. 

“They’re old enough to understand they’re receiving a gift and they react in particular to books with colorful pictures and their ‘reading buddy,’ says Richard Plotkin, the Kiwanian who chairs the Bookcase Project. “One recipient could not wait to have her bookcase loaded in her family’s car before checking out her copy of ‘Three Little Engines.’” 

A local construction company builds the bookcases, which the Kiwanis club funds through ticket sales to its annual banquet and supplemental cash and in-kind donations from businesses and individuals. A personalized nameplate, donated by a local trophy and awards shop, identifies the owner of each bookcase, which contains a selection of books that the Conway Public Library receives through community donations. Other area supporters donate books as well, and an individual donates the “reading buddies.”

A seven-person operating committee provides functional oversight of the Bookcase Project. Committee members include representatives from the fields of education, government and community service.

Bookcase recipients, however, are unaware of the annual team effort organized by the Conway Kiwanis Club. They’re just happy to receive the gift of literacy.

For Plotkin, one experience from earlier this year stands out: a bookcase ceremony in which a representative of Child Care Aware of Northcentral Arkansas led recipients in numerous activities.

“I was told after the ceremony that the children did not want to return to their parents at the end of the session,” Plotkin says. “They wanted to stay.”