The Times
  • Reading between the lines: Community Bookshelves and community engagement

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  • The Literacy Coalition of Herkimer and Oneida Counties announced at their September meeting the results of the summer book drive and Phase 1 of the community bookshelves project for Herkimer and Oneida counties.
    During the summer-long project, beginning May 20, over 50 corporate and community organizations throughout Herkimer and Oneida counties donated over 12,000 new and gently used books. To date there are over 20 bookshelves, branded EZREAD, in businesses, nonprofits and government agencies where reading is not the main reason a person would visit the locale.
    “The goal of this summer project was twofold,” said Lara Sepanski, Pimentel, executive director of the Literacy Coalition, in a news release. “We wanted to encourage summer reading and increase access to reading materials throughout our two-county service area.”
    The project was conceived by the Resource Center for Independent Living Youth Leadership Group, a group of young adults with a range of physical and mental disabilities.
    “It was the perfect storm,” said Pimentel. “The youth leadership group wanted to do something to benefit the community, and thought of a book drive. The coalition wanted a way to make sure the community had access to read the books.”
    The result was a three-way collaboration of the Literacy Coalition, United Way and RCIL.
    “Each organization had a different role,” said Pimentel. “RCIL tackled the book sorting and warehousing, the United Way managed the drive portion and we were contacted by the United Way to facilitate the distribution.”
    The initial phase of the community project is complete; however the literacy coalition is encouraging community support of the project to continue.
    According to Pimentel, the project has been so well received; the program has been expanded to encourage year-round access to books.
    “We want to encourage the community to donate to the bookshelves,” said Pimentel. “Many homes do not have any reading materials. The more communities hosting bookshelves and donations to the shelves, the more reading materials we can get into the hands of people who need books. In essence, the bookshelves have become a tool for building community through literacy. Community engagement is the only way we can truly increase literacy rates.”
    “Getting the community involved in reading opens doors for people,” said Frank-Michael Drayton, a literacy coalition member and bookshelf volunteer, in the release. “I was happy to volunteer for the bookshelf project and think getting books into people’s hands is a good first step to encourage kids and families to read together.”
    Those wishing to donate a new or gently used book can drop off handfuls of books at the existing EZ Read bookshelves locations for community circulation. Larger donations may be dropped off at 199 W. Dominick St. in Rome, at the Neighborhood Center at 401 E German St. in Herkimer or at the United Way office at 508 2nd St. in Utica. For more information on how to host an EZ read bookshelf and the Literacy Coalition of Herkimer and Oneida Counties, contact Pimentel at larasp@unitedwaygu.org or 733-4691, ext 243.
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