How your club can promote literacy

How your club can promote literacy

Looking for new ways to help kids read? Use these Kiwanis clubs as inspiration. 

By Julie Saetre 

To promote literacy and a love of reading, the Weston Kiwanis Club in Connecticut, U.S., helped a local school purchase a book vending machine. Does your club want to encourage kids in your community to read? Here are three more ideas that have worked for other Kiwanis clubs.  

Build a bookcase
The Conway Kiwanis Club in Arkansas, U.S., uses its Bookcase Project to promote literacy at an early age. Project recipients are 4- and 5-year-old preschool children enrolled in three area Head Start centers. Each child receives a personalized bookcase, a starter kit of age-appropriate books and a “reading buddy” — a stuffed animal. See how the club makes it work with local partners and supporters. 

Open some Little Free Libraries
In Waynesboro, Virginia, U.S., the Waynesboro Kiwanis Club opened Little Free Libraries in three local schools. Through Little Free Library, a Kiwanis International partner, Kiwanis clubs make books available in locations throughout their communities — and get help with construction and stewardship. In Waynesboro, the local Key Club also helps with upkeep and inventory. Learn how KIwanians in Waynesboro made multiple Little Free Libraries a reality. 

Give schools literacy tools
The Kiwanis Club of Papine in Kingston, Jamaica, helped 30 deaf students by providing access to virtual libraries and an online early childhood literacy tool. A Kiwanis Children’s Fund grant allowed the club to purchase more tablets and accessible devices. See how a club grant can transform your vision into a program.   

Kiwanis members promote literacy through free books in school 

Kiwanis members promote literacy through free books in school 

A Kiwanis club’s foundation grant helps a book vending machine encourage reading and kindness in school. 

By Bob Uzenoff, member of the Kiwanis Club of Weston ♦ Photographs by Reed Ameden, Lisa Barbiero 

Shelly Rinas, teacher-librarian at Weston Intermediate School (WIS) in Connecticut, U.S., dreamed of promoting literacy while supporting a positive school culture. In particular, she wanted to add a book vending machine to the school’s library. 

Such machines have become increasingly popular in elementary and middle schools. Students use tokens — coins made specifically for the machine — to “buy” a book from the device. 

At WIS, which serves about 450 children in grades three through five, the school budget combined with support from the Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) was enough to purchase new titles for the vending machine over the years. But Rinas needed support to purchase the machine itself — along with a custom cover in Weston blue and gold, a four-year warranty and 150 coins. 

What to do?
Weston Public School Superintendent and former Kiwanian Lisa Barbieropointed Rinas to Reed Ameden, chair of the Kiwanis Club of Weston’s Philanthropy Committee.  

On January 25, Rinas submitted a grant application to the committee. 

In June, the Kiwanis Club of Weston Foundation agreed to provide half of the money needed if Rinas could find funding for the remainder. The Weston Intermediate School PTOpledged to match Kiwanis’s funding.  

On June 24, Rinas was able to order the book vending machine. 

Today, the machine stands at the heart of the school’s “Caught Being Kind” program. When someone sees a student doing a good deed, that student earns a token. The first recipient, Cole, was recognized for helping reshelve and organize books during a book exchange. 

Thanks for additional reporting to Reed Ameden, Shelly Rinas and Barbara Gross. 

Ideas for your club
Are you initiating a program in a school or community location? Take some tips from the Weston Kiwanis Club: 

  • Be eventful! After the vending machine arrived, Rinas conducted an unveiling. She and fellow educator Paige Noonandevised a covering for the machine that would fall away when a ribbon was cut. 
  • Remind people who did it. As the machine was unveiled, attendees saw it wrapped in Kiwanis and PTO logos.  
  • Make people a part of the moment. Adriana Ilicheva, a student who had read 209 books, cut the gold ribbon and unveiled the machine. The event was also broadcast live to all classrooms. Other guests included members of the Weston club and the WIS PTO. 
  • Give a sense of ownership. The machine will have a name, and because of a school-wide naming contest, it will mean something to the students. 

Kiwanis partner boosts literacy and language skills

Kiwanis partner boosts literacy and language skills

A matching grant from Reading Is Fundamental is helping one Kiwanis club expand its local books program.

By Tony Knoderer 

Together, education and literacy comprise one of the causes of Kiwanis International. Among the most ardent supporters of that cause is the Kiwanis Club of Kernersville, North Carolina, U.S.  

When awarded a matching grant of US$6,000 by Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) earlier this year, the club was able to expand the scope of its primary goal: to put books in the hands of as many children as possible.  

A Kiwanis partner, RIF awarded 90 matching grants to various organizations during its most recent grantmaking cycle. The grant to the Kiwanians in Kernersville is helping promote literacy — along with attendance, good behavior and multicultural opportunity — to a wider sector of its community. 

HEROs and Cape Crusaders
With the RIF grant, the club is expanding a pilot program that it’s currently conducting in Kernersville Elementary School. The club seeks to introduce the program to four additional schools during the upcoming school year. 

At Kernersville Elementary, students from each of the school’s grade levels (Kindergarten through fifth grade) are eligible to select a book from the Literacy Library bookcase in the school’s main hallway. Eligibility is subject to attendance and behavioral criteria: A student must either be designated as a HERO (Here, Every Day, Ready, On Time) or recognized by a teacher as a “Cape Crusader” for improved classroom behavior and citizenship.  

Each of the four additional schools will determine its own program criteria, and each Literacy Library bookcase will fit the school’s décor.  

In addition to the RIF grant, the Kernersville Kiwanis Club secured matching funds from local businesses and community members to build custom-made bookcases for each school. 
Getting parents involved
Kernersville Elementary School has 207 multi-lingual learners out of a student body of 660 students. In the district as a whole, nearly 15% of students are multi-lingual learners.  

The club shapes its service to the demographics of its area by including Spanish-language and bilingual books.  

In fact, the program will help promote English classes that some area schools hold for parents. The club will include a copy of RIF’s online Family Tip Sheet to encourage parents to read with their children — as well as a simple form for the parent to sign, indicating that the child read the book with them. At school, the child can exchange this form for a sticker that reads, “I Read a Book with My Family.”  


Virginia Kiwanis club opens three Little Free Libraries

Virginia Kiwanis club opens three Little Free Libraries

Kiwanis partnerships that support literacy and learning helped make students part of the project.

By Tony Knoderer

In Waynesboro, Virginia, U.S., the partnership between the Waynesboro Kiwanis Club and Little Free Library reached a new height on April 12. That day, the two organizations celebrated the openings of Little Free Libraries at three different local schools.

They were joined for ribbon-cutting ceremonies by representatives of the various organizations that made the project a community effort. In addition to club members (including President Marcia Geiger), the ceremony included employees of Mathers Construction Team and the president and directors of On The Road Collaborative — respectively, a local company and a career exploration program, both of which were instrumental in the hands-on work and mentoring.

Local educators were also in attendance, along with the Greater Augusta Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Waynesboro City Schools superintendent and representatives of the school board.

Bringing people together
With Little Free Library, a Kiwanis International partner, Kiwanis clubs make books available in locations throughout their communities. Thanks to the partnership, clubs get help with the construction and stewardship of the organization’s Little Free Libraries while supporting the Kiwanis cause of literacy and education.

The Waynesboro club took that concept a step further — not merely by opening three new Little Free Libraries at once, but by using the project to deepen community engagement with service and education.

In Waynesboro, students at Kate Collins Middle School can enroll in On The Road Collaborative and spend 10 weeks participating in career exploration after school. With coordination from Blythe and her fellow Kiwanis club members, the students worked each week with a different team member from Mathers Construction to learn about design, budgeting, safety and more.

The project then culminated in a two-week “build” of the Little Free Libraries, which are located at William Perry Elementary, Kate Collins Middle School and Waynesboro High School.

Waynesboro Kiwanis member Jessica Blythe spearheaded the project. As an employee of Mathers Construction and a former educator, she was uniquely positioned to bring key people together.

“This project wouldn’t have happened if Jessica hadn’t led the effort with Mathers,” says Samantha Bosserman, a fellow club member and a lieutenant governor of the Kiwanis Capital District.

For Blythe, it was an opportunity to serve the community, but also a way to involve local students in the project — in ways that had a lasting impact.

“We wanted to make sure the final product was meaningful,” Blythe says. “We wanted something the students could see and be proud of.”

Education and construction
The Waynesboro Kiwanis club had enjoyed a productive relationship with Little Free Library even before the recent trio of openings. Dating back to 2018, the club had previously placed five Little Free Libraries.

In fact, literacy “has long been a focus for the club,” Blythe says. For instance, members had raised funds for kids to pick out books and take them home for summer vacations. But the Little Free Libraries pushed the club’s support to a new level.

Bosserman, one of the club’s board members, was the driving force behind the club’s involvement with the organization — and this more recent chance to add three more Little Free Libraries while involving Mathers Construction employees and Kiwanis club members in mentorship, construction and stewardship made it irresistible.

“I put it on the board agenda, and it was an easy sell,” she says.

Mathers Construction had been a sponsor of club events previously, but this level of partnership was new.

“This was a ‘perfect storm,” Bosserman says. “There was a need, and there was someone like Jessica who was there to join them together.”

Fortunately, Blythe was ready for inspiration when it occurred.

“These opportunities don’t come along naturally all the time,” she says. “You can always ask yourself, even when you’re at your job, ‘How can I serve, what can I do?’”

A special opportunity
Of course, the service itself doesn’t end with ribbon-cutting ceremonies. The Waynesboro club, working with the Waynesboro High School Key Club, provides upkeep and inventory for the Little Free Libraries. But keeping them stocked is only part of their stewardship. In addition to including some books for grown-up readers (“All ages can come,” Blythe says), diversity of representation is also a factor.

“For kids to be able to see themselves in the books is a part of these projects,” Blythe says. “Having the funds to get books that are diverse is important, especially since there aren’t always a lot in circulation.”

For Blythe, Bosserman and their fellow Kiwanians, access to books — and the consistency of that access — make the partnership with Little Free Library a special opportunity.

“You can give books to kids any day of the week,” Blythe says, “but making them available over the long term is a really special aspect.”

Building literacy

Building literacy

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.” 

A new literacy project makes a big impact

A new literacy project makes a big impact

Kiwanians in Kansas create Little Free Libraries in courts. 

By Julie Saetre 

 When Melissa Bynum attended her first Kiwanis International convention in 2022, she heard a lot about the Kiwanis causes: health and nutrition, education and literacy, and youth leadership development. The “literacy” concept particularly caught her attention. 

Bynum’s club, the Kansas City-West Kiwanis Club in Kansas, U.S., focuses a number of projects on nutrition — from packing and providing weekend snack packs to local elementary school students to picking pears and apples from an area orchard for organizations that assist kids. While members also provide books to new moms and read at area schools, Bynum thought another ongoing literacy effort should be added to the club’s project list. 

Bynum remembered that a fellow member, Pat Hurrelbrink, had previously mentioned Little Free Library — a Kiwanis International partner. Bynum returned from the convention and talked with club members about where Little Free Libraries were needed in their community.  

Their consensus: court buildings. 

“We decided that the courthouse and municipal building were good places because that’s a place where Mom and Dad don’t want to go. And the kids sure as heck don’t want to go with them,” Bynum says. “We thought that it might be a good way to give them a book — to give them something to do, keep them occupied and possibly help endear them to reading.” 

Community collaboration
Kansas City, Kansas, has a unified city-county government, so the club contacted representatives about placing and maintaining Little Free Libraries at the Wyandotte County Courthouse and the Municipal Court across the site. Not only did the city-county government agree, but it also offered to buy multiple library carts — each costing several hundred U.S. dollars — to hold the books. Club members added Kiwanis signage to each cart and set about gathering new or gently used books. 

“We have club members who have children and grandchildren and they’re like, ‘OK, time to clean out your bookshelves,’” Bynum says. “And we’ve put the word out to our friends and family: ‘Hey, ask your kids about books they’re willing to give up.’” 

Pat Hurrelbrink and her husband, Dave (a former Kiwanis International trustee), searched garage sales and thrift stores, where they often found books in pristine condition. And at a surprise birthday party for Bynum, guests brought books for the libraries as gifts. 

Club members put a sticker on the inside of each book to show that it was provided by the Kiwanis Club of Kansas City-West. Four Little Free Libraries now offer books in the courthouse, with another in the Municipal Court. Two club members — one a judge, the other a sheriff — monitor book supplies as they go about their daily jobs and notify the club when more books are needed. 

“It’s probably not an understatement to say that we’ve already distributed over 1,000 books, and we’ve maybe been doing this for only six months,” says Bynum. “You know, I may never see that young person take that book. But based on the frequency with which we are replenishing those shelves, I feel like we are making an impact.”