Small libraries, big dreams

Cindy Dashnaw | Feb 20, 2018

A singular-focus Kiwanis club sows seeds of literacy

Abandoned and homeless at age 11, Jean Chadwick had one main goal: to stay in school. Reading, she decided, was the key. Today, she and her husband give young people in the California-Nevada-Hawaii District and beyond the same chance with the singular-focused Kiwanis Literacy Club of Southern California. 

“I used to think of reading as a means to an end," Chadwick says. "Then I read “The Chronicles of Narnia,” and I truly understood the power of books. I knew I had to find a way for kids to have that experience.”

Jean and her husband, Doug, first founded an organization to build mailbox-like free libraries. Then they had an idea: Why not make them bigger and install them in unexpected places? They began building mini libraries to look like trolleys, doghouses, a 7-foot stagecoach and more and then setting them up in what Jean calls “book deserts” – community rec centers, police stations, courthouses, homeless shelters and food banks.

The new books and materials came at a cost. That’s where Kiwanis stepped in.

After hearing the Chadwicks speak, the Kiwanis Club of Burbank, California, invited The Literacy Club to become a member. A few months later, in a booth he’d set up at a regional Kiwanis convention, Doug heard someone say, “Why isn’t this a part of Kiwanis?” 

Now it is. Chartered in October 2017, the Kiwanis Club of Literacy in Southern California kicked off its first service project in November. Be a Book Hero 20/20 aims to provide 20,000 books and 20 custom mini libraries through 20 Kiwanis clubs as an affordable and sustainable way to immediately improve communities.

“By creating book heroes throughout the Kiwanis family, we create opportunity, which sparks ideas and opens the door for our next generation to change the world.” 

She thinks topic-focused Kiwanis clubs are the future.

“We all just want to help,” she says. “If I can make a dent in my universe, and you are doing the same in your universe, and everyone else is, too, then we are making a great big dent in the world.”


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