November 18, 2013 9:13:33 AM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
Edwina Williams sat down at the piano in the antebellum home Errolton the evening of April 1 to entertain, she thought, for a surprise birthday party. The surprise, as it turns out, was on her. The crowd, in reality, was assembled for the Friends of the Columbus-Lowndes Public Library's reveal of the Edwina Williams "Mother Goose" Endowment Fund for Children's Literacy and Advancement. The honoree had been kept in the dark for several months, while initial fundraising was underway behind the scenes.
Now, seven and one half months after that public launch, the Friends want to report to the community. The halfway mark toward the endowment's $100,000 goal has been reached. That's a notable accomplishment considering the group set a five-year timeline to reach the finish line.
"We crossed the $50,000 mark last week -- less than a year after we started," said Friends Board President Jo Shumake. "Now, onward and upward!"
Work to be done
The endowment was established, in part, because of some startling statistics.
"Nationally, one in five children will grow up functionally illiterate," said Friends Vice President and fundraising chair Keith Gaskin. "And recent statistics show that one out of every 88 children born in the United States today will be diagnosed on the autism spectrum. "
With those facts resonating, the board set out a four-fold mission for the endowment: to enlarge the library's collection of national and state children's book award winners; to make more information available in the library's Early Childhood Resource Center; to expand information and programming in the library's Autism Resource Center; and to increase resources and workshops that help parents understand the value of reading with their children.
Establishing the fund in Williams' honor was, as they say, a no-brainer. For almost 40 years, she has used her singular talents to thrill, nurture and encourage children to embrace the joy of books and reading at a very impressionable time in their lives.
"Her countless performances as Mother Goose -- and Miz Rabbit and Miz Claus -- have made her an icon for many in the Golden Triangle area," said Gaskin.
"I think it's because I act like a kid," Williams laughed, sitting in her office at the library Wednesday. The windowed space is awash in whimsy, color and almost every kind of hand puppet or stuffed animal imaginable. There are a lot of geese.
"Making children smile makes me happy," said "The Goose," who has portrayed the storybook figure since about 1981 in area schools and other places. She's been affiliated with the library since 1986, when former director Chebie Gaines Bateman asked her to work with children there. Whether it's at weekly storytime, in a classroom or at after-school programs, Williams is concerned whenever she sees a child with low reading or comprehension skills.
Libraries are more than repositories for books. They are resources for developing literacy skills and information about culture, society, economy and history. They offer learning facilities and materials and promote public discussion. A growing awareness of a workforce unable to read well enough to perform jobs in a highly technological society has spurred libraries to link with schools, businesses and volunteer groups to provide materials, referrals and professional expertise on literacy. It begins early.
"In our efforts to promote literacy throughout the city and county, the Friends of the Columbus-Lowndes Public Library System is focused on helping two segments of the population that need assistance in developing literacy skills -- preschool and elementary school children," said Shumake.
Increasing research examines a widening gap between children who have access to reading materials and those who don't. "Access" has been given as a potential reason for variations in children's interactions, behaviors and, ultimately, achievement in school and life. Children from environments lacking rich language experiences such as reading have shown gradual and linear declines in tests of preschool educational development. Once in place, the patterns are hard to change.
"We want to make sure parents and grandparents in our area are aware that public libraries are well positioned to expose children to great quantities of print and meaningful language opportunities during the crucial early years," Gaskin said. The library closes the "book gap" by providing children of all backgrounds access to high-quality reading materials and language experiences including arts and crafts, songs, drama, storytelling and puppet shows. These resources also aid in the battle against aliteracy -- being able to read but lacking the motivation.
The endowment will enhance all these programs, and support the Autism Resource Center as well.
You can help
"It's important our supporters know we're establishing the Mother Goose Endowment to be here in perpetuity," Shumake remarked. Only the earned income from the fund will be spent.
Gaskin encouraged tax-deductible gifts in honor or memory of friends or family during the holidays. "All gifts make a difference, regardless of size, and this is a gift that will give back forever," he remarked.
Checks made out to the Friends of the Library Mother Goose Endowment may be mailed to the Friends of the Library, 1835 Highway 45 North-Box 201, Columbus, MS 39705. For more information, contact Shumake at 662-497-2948 or Gaskin at 662-617-0942.
As the fundraising continues, so will Mother Goose's efforts to instill a love of reading in little ones. Watch for her at the library or on the street, going out of her way to brag on each child she encounters. "I make over them," she said, "so they feel like they are someone special -- and they are."
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.