In the office of My Family Labette, Sherri Spare, a volunteer with Moms Demand Action, stood beside a table with boxes of books below it and stacked on top, and each box labeled for age groups, from babies, to toddlers, to preschool.
“This is great,” My Family Labette resource specialist Melanie Chappel said as she looked over the donations, which they estimate to be somewhere between 300 and 500 books.
Moms Demand Action is a grassroots movement of Americans fighting for public safety measures that can protect people from gun violence. Annually they do service projects for their Wear Orange events the first week of June to raise awareness.
“Some of the other Moms Demand groups were doing things like a blood drive in Salina, a blood drive in Wichita, a donation for a safe house in Winfield, but I was by myself here, so I thought, I’ll have a book drive and donate them to Melanie, and that way we get books in the hands of the neediest families,” Spare said.
Having been an elementary school teacher for more than 30 years, and being nationally board certified, Spare knows the difference literacy and a love a reading can make in a child’s success in school and in life.
Spare read from a piece she kept posted above her desks at work and at home. It spoke of how phonemic awareness may be important, but only because it is on the pathway to phonics, and phonics are an important pathway to words, comprehension, reflection, critique and empathy. And those are important to civic participation, self-efficacy and the good life. One thing leads to another.
“If we can get books in the hands of kids that need them, and they can come to school a little more prepared, and then that will help their self-esteem be higher because they know what is going on in a classroom,” Spare said. “The last four years I worked in Title I, kindergarten and first grade, and I would do flash cards with kids going down the hall and say, ‘Hey, let’s make up a sentence about this word,’ and get, ‘Uh. Uh.’ There wasn’t the background vocabulary. I thought if we get the books into the hands of the zero to 5-year-olds, and those parents who can’t afford (books) read to them, they’ll get the background vocabulary.”
She said some children come to school and don’t know how to hold a book.
“Reading to a child is the most important thing you can do to get them ready for school. Maybe they won’t be bullied. Maybe they won’t have low self-esteem and turn to violence down the road because it starts so small.”
That may be part of the answer to helping eliminate violence. Another part, she said, is love. Spare referred to two coffee mugs she got for her parents: “Love is the answer no matter what the problem” and “Love is the only gift to give.”
A child sitting in a parent’s lap while they read is a great way to share love and connection.
“In these mass shootings there is a lack of love somewhere and also a lack of language and communication skills, because they didn’t say, ‘I’m having problems. I need help.’ They went and got a gun and shot somebody. It’s a lack of language. If we can give kids language way earlier, it is proactive to 20 years down the road. That is my reason for a book drive.”
Spare figured it would be a simple project. She could get donations by posting on Facebook. People could order online and send them directly to her or drop them off at her house.
“I was stunned at the response,” Spare said of all the books she received. “They came from very kind, loving and generous people and I’m very grateful. I just put the word out and the books arrived, and I am so appreciative of the response. The response was tremendous, beyond my dreams.”
“One friend sent it on to a friend and he has a lending library in Leavenworth and asked them to come pick them up and it was a whole car full,” Spare said. “At first I thought, Melanie can give each family two or three little books and they can have them at home. Then when I got this car full, this massive amount, then I thought maybe Melanie can have a lending library. They come in here regularly for diapers and formula. I thought they could come in and get books and when they are done they can bring those back and get new books when they are ready.
“Sometimes kids just love a book and want to read it over and over. It is profoundly important and helpful. They start recognizing words.”
Chappel said one of her home visiting groups, Parents as Teachers, also does Dolly Parton Imagination Library, where children birth to 5 get a free book every month, but not all of her home visiting groups offer that, so she is happy about having books available to all the families she helps.
Chappel is already planning a place in her office to put up bookshelves.