ASHLAND – A smile is a powerful thing.
It inspires, encourages, promotes warm feelings and indicates delight.
And the Ashland Bookcase Project, founded in 2012 by retired educator and school psychologist Julia Wright, draws smiles on all levels while bringing the community together to promote reading.
From the children who receive bookcases loaded with good reads and a stuffed animal reading budding, to the Ashland West Holmes Career Center students who make the bookcases, and the other community members who work to support the program, there are plenty of smiles to go around.
“When I show up at the distribution ceremony, and you see the smiles on the kids’ faces when they get that bookcase, that is what motivates me to keep doing this,” said Loudonville attorney Dave Hunter, a Career Center board member and chairman of the annual event, which this year will take place in two sessions at 12:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. on April 24.
RAMTEC students help children build a reading habit
Hunter has been chairing the program, meant to help children make reading a habit and a family activity, for about five years. He said 80 children will be receiving the personalized bookcases filled with roughly 60 books this year.
“I think people see the need to give our young people books,” he said.
Construction Technology Instructor John Staats said while his students make the bookcases, students and teachers in other Career Center programs also get involved
Students in the RAMTEC program (Robotics and Advanced Manufacturing Technology) make the personalized name tags. Early Childhood students read to the children. The culinary program provides snacks on the day the bookcases are distributed. And students in the graphics program make the invitations and flyers.
“It’s a real tearjerker to see the faces of the children when they get their bookcases, and how excited they are to get a book and a reading buddy stuffed animal,” Staats said.
Children in the Ashland County Head Start program are the recipients, and their parents must agree to read to them for 20 minutes a day.
“The goal of the project is building the students’ vocabulary and their ability to self-read so they can succeed in both school and life,” Staats said. “One of the greatest hurdles of learning at all ages is lack of reading skills and vocabulary. If a person can read and understand and analyze what they are reading, they can learn anything.”
Hunter called the Bookcase Project a win-win for the Career Center because of all the students who are learning while serving the community.
“This is something the students can look back at and say they helped a young child start their education,” he said.
Students from other programs help out by taking pictures, loading cars, setting up and organization of the event.
Career Center students reap rewards from Bookcase Project
About $200 goes into each bookcase between the materials and the books, according to Staats. The construction technology students work in different stations putting the bookcases together.
They are made of plywood with oak faces.
Senior Ben Lober said he’s benefited from the program as much as the children who receive the bookcases.
“From learning how to make the bookcases to helping distribute them. It feels good to help people who need them,” he said. “It was great to see how happy the kids were when they got the bookcase with al the books. It’s a fun project; a lot of work, but seeing how the kids react makes it all worthwhile.”
Avery Hriesik agreed, saying it’s been a fun and educational experience.
“It was a big process that we had to do, starting from scratch and putting them all together,” Hriesik said. “Now we’re in the process of putting the stain on them.”
Senior Dakota Luna said it’s a satisfying and rewarding project.
“It feels good to see what we can do. We have a task in hand, and we are getting it done,” he said.
Community support from other agencies makes program a success
Hunter noted that various organizations, such as the Lions Clubs, Rotary, the Norma June Foundation, and the VFW, as well as partner organizations like Simonson Construction and other entities that work with the Career Center have supported the project year after year.
Donations from more than 20 individuals and organizations have ranged from $40 to $1,500.
A year ago, program funding was running short. Staats said he put a notice on social media and donations started pouring in.
“Last year, the Ashland VFW Post 1067 asked how much we needed,” Staats said. “I asked for $500. They gave us $1,000. This year, their donation was $1,500.
“It’s truly amazing how supportive people are when it comes to this project,” he said.
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