Little Free Libraries: A senior class works together to leave a legacy for their community

March 29, 2014 10:33:24 PM

Jan Swoope - [email protected]


Take a book, return a book. The concept is brilliantly simple. In its most basic form, a Little Free Library is a box full of books where anyone may stop by, pick up a book to read, then bring it back, or leave another to share in its place. Of course, it first requires someone, some group, some gathering of generous souls to care enough to put repositories of free books in neighborhoods for all to use. That's what the Heritage Academy senior class of 2014 is doing, times six. 


The idea first jelled at a senior class retreat at the beginning of the year. 


"Mrs. Leah found the idea, and we immediately liked it," said Class President Lizzie Sansing, referring to project co-sponsor and senior parent Leah Ellis. "We thought it would really accomplish something that would help the community," she finished, putting books in a Little Free Library on a windy day outside Heritage Elementary School. That's where one of the libraries is destined to go.  




Feed & Read<> 


The six little box libraries are part of a two-pronged Senior Legacy Project called Feed & Read. Developed by the Class of 2014, it addresses two compelling issues -- hunger and literacy. No town is without its share of those who struggle to feed their families, so the "Feed" side of the project was implemented to help local food banks at Helping Hands and Salvation Army.  


Heritage Headmaster Dr. Greg Carlyle said, "Students wanted to help food banks stay as full as possible. We've had canned food drives throughout the year that have brought in the whole school." Decorated shopping carts to fill have been a common sight at both the high school and elementary school. To date, about 550 cans of food have been given to the food banks, and 86 items to assist the HEARTS After School Tutoring program have been donated. Seniors also decorated the Loaves and Fishes Soup Kitchen site at Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Valentine.  


The "Read" element stems from Mississippi's continuous struggle with reading proficiency. 


The seniors understand how much reading impacts a student's performance in school and enhances the quality of life. Their goal is to provide easy access to books for children, youth and adults of all backgrounds with the free book exchanges. Students in every class, from elementary to 12th-graders, have already helped amass more than 750 books to fill the little libraries.  


Elementary School Principal Cindy Wamble remarked, "A lot of books were donated during our Book Fairs, when parents and students could purchase books to donate to the project." An unexpected donation of 45 books also came in from Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant's office.  




Red letter day 


Friday, April 4 is circled on the Heritage calendar. The first Little Free Library will be dedicated at a reception at the elementary school, on Magnolia Lane. The community is invited to the 1:30 p.m. event. Other decorated libraries will soon be installed on posts in the ground at Lee Park, HEARTS and outside the Troop 3 Boy Scout Hut next to the Hitching Lot Farmers' Market on Second Avenue North. Two more will be mounted on wheels for mobility at the Loaves and Fishes Soup Kitchen and the Good Samaritan Medical Clinic. 




A teacher, an inspiration 


Little Free Library is a national nonprofit organization. In 2009, Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisc., built a model of a one-room schoolhouse as a tribute to his mother, a former school teacher who loved reading. He filled it with books and put it on a post in his front yard. His neighbors loved it, so Bol built more and gave them away. He soon partnered with Rick Brooks of Madison, Wisc., and the program has grown from there.  


Library boxes may be purchased from the organization, or built by volunteers. Heritage senior Drew Wallace made three of the local libraries as part of his work toward the rank of Eagle Scout. 


"It was hard but I had fun with it, did it with my friends," said Wallace, who constructed two small library boxes and one large one. Military Hardware and Garden Center and The Paint Store in Columbus helped by donating materials. 


"There are 45 seniors in our class, and everybody's helped in some way," Sansing said. Some created designs, some sanded and painted. Others will help install and stock the libraries. The high school social club will be responsible for checking and restocking them on a continuing basis, explained Ellis and project co-sponsor Karoyl McCain. As sponsors of the Senior Leadership and Legacy Program, they have provided enthusiastic leadership from the beginning. 


When the Class of 2014 adopted Feed & Read as a legacy project at the retreat, they also chose a Bible verse as a theme for the milestone senior year. It is Colossians 3:23 -- "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not men." Many of the teens have tried to keep the spirit of that verse as they've collected canned goods, purchased books, raised funds, decorated for holidays at charities, and shaken sawdust from their hair after sanding a wooden box that will hold books.  


Senior Zach Asadi, hair tousled by the wind, stood in bright sunshine outside the elementary school, giving the libraries a last look before they were loaded into a vehicle.  


"I think it's cool," he said of the project. "It was fun building them, and it'll be fun putting them out and seeing people using them." 









    Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.