Thanks to the partnership between East Cobb UMC and Powers Ferry Elementary, every first and second grade student at the school recently had to chance to pick out six new books for their home library.
We checked in with Rev. Kristin Heiden, pastor of East Cobb, to find out more!
Q: Tell us more about this project! How many kids (and books) were involved?
Rev. Kristin Heiden: We entered into a Partner in Education relationship with Powers Ferry elementary school two years ago. We learned about the low literacy rates in some of our area schools and wanted to see how we could address it, knowing that early reading is key to students' education. Our church's mission co-chairs, Donna and Merrill, are both retired teachers, so they are able to provide us with wisdom in this area, including notifying us of various national programs that the school could benefit from.
We decided on the Reading is Fundamental program that helps provide students with books to take home and begin their own at-home libraries (https://www.rif.org/). They sell books at a low cost and we were able to purchase in bulk. Overall, we were able to purchase enough books for all the 1st and 2nd grade students to choose 6 books from a variety of titles. That's 8 classes, averaging 17 kids per class. We have many leftover books that we will use for the tutoring program we plan to begin once COVID restrictions ease.
Q: That is a lot of kids and books! How did you pull it off?
Our church really got behind this project and wanted to see it succeed. We did fundraising on Sunday mornings, offering $10 sponsorships for congregation members to purchase as well as a fun contest involving the staff. We chose the theme, "Hats Off to Reading" for the book fair and used that as inspiration for fundraising as well. Our missions chairs decorated a hat and then congregation members got to choose which staff member would have to wear the hat during worship one Sunday. Every dollar was a vote. We raised over $500 through that effort alone. A big shoutout to our choir director and organist, Ira Pittman who won the contest. (Photo).
Q: What was the day of the book fair like?
A Sunday School class spent a few weeks stamping all the books noting they were donated by the church as part of Reading is Fundamental. The day before the book fair, volunteers went up to the school after the children left to set up the Media Center with the book tables as well as bags for the students to carry the books, information about the importance of reading for the parents/guardians, bookmarks to color, and fun foam visors with stickers to decorate as part of the Hats Off theme. On the day of the fair, classes came into the media center in 30-minute blocks to pick their books and do the crafts. We also had a fun surprise message from Super Bowl Champion, Georgia Bulldog, and author Malcolm Mitchell that the kids got to see!
A big thanks to Kathy Culbertson, the media specialist, for all her assistance in getting the book fair set up and running so smoothly!
Q: Is there anything you learned that another church could benefit from?
Always be on the lookout for programs that already exist in areas you want to serve. The RIF program is available for anyone looking to serve children and literacy, and it helped to keep our costs low.
And, of course, always be prepared to pivot and improvise. With COVID restrictions, we weren't able to have the volunteer presence in the school that we had hoped for, but the staff of the school really came through for us. And, the week before the book fair, the rains came through Cobb and the place where we were storing the books flooded. We had to do an emergency book purchase after some of them got wet.
But, it was all worth it to see the kids so excited about getting new books. One even said as she was leaving the media center, "Best. Day. Ever!"