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.”