Posted by Diane Tkach, Saranac Lake
Literacy is an initiative we as a club are proud to put our name on. We believe that reading is the only way out of poverty. Having books in the home; encouraging reading and literacy at a young age; adults reading and being role models – these are all statistically proven to set the stage for an exciting learning curve as children from birth are introduced to books and reading.
In the mid 1990’s club member Esther Arlan started the beginnings of a literacy program in the Saranac Lake school system. Esther is on one of the photos in the collage with current member Mitch Smith – looking at a book and laughing. By the time she and her husband, PDG Lionel, retired and moved away she had laid the foundation with the schools to allow us to come in and do something with a literacy focus.
Esther raised money to fund books for each classroom in our two elementary schools. In 1998 I moved to Saranac Lake and joined Rotary. Esther needed a partner in this endeavor and having just retired as an elementary school librarian, I gladly embraced the project with her.
We worked some on seeing how we could get more money and expand the program to reach every student in the schools. I had worked with a large corporation in my career as an elementary librarian to offer every student in 6 schools a book three times a year. So, I had a dream we could move toward accomplishing the goal of putting a book in the hands of each child in our district. We started by asking the Board to allot money from one of our fund raisers (sale of cotton candy and sno-cones) to fund this initiative. The support was genuine and very real. The literacy program became one of the club’s most visible initiatives. For the last two years we have partnered with the Youth Center to manage the annual Olga Memorial footrace splitting the proceeds which now fully funds our literacy efforts.
From then to now our program has grown, and we take our team to the schools in the spring and celebrate Read Across America by giving each child a book and reading in classrooms. All 4th grade students continue to get a special hard cover reference book entitled The Way Things Work. I had connections with Scholastic, and we bought books from their warehouse for several years. A few years ago, they stopped doing a warehouse buy, so I looked and found an online source called “First.”  I set up a Rotary account with First and I order online. They have great books and they are inexpensive enough that we can make sure every student is covered. We have taken on a private school as well. So, our total is around 600 students. Total budget for this project is around $3,500.
Over the years I have found our club devoted and totally supportive of this initiative. The literacy program will get its money before any other money is allocated for other interests.
We start promoting this in grade K and go all the way through grade 5. Every student has a library at home. The books each have a bookplate with the Rotary gearwheel and a space for the student to write their own name. Our hope is that growing readers will reap the rewards of seeing adults who read, getting a gift book, and setting out on a life journey of wide proportions.