Empowering young minds through partnership in service

Books Feeding Minds project participants. Photo courtsey of Judy Backlund.
Books Feeding Minds project participants. Photo courtsey of Judy Backlund.

By Judy Backlund, Past Club President of the Ellensburg Morning Rotary Club, Washington, USA, and Chair of International Reading Association-Rotary International Special Interest Group.

First and foremost, I am a teacher. I am also a 20 year member of the International Reading Association, a membership organization for those in the education field. And I’m a Rotarian. My involvement with Rotary began about 8 years ago when I attended a fireside event with my husband, also a Rotarian. One of the presentations described Rotarian-led U.S. and international literacy related projects. As a teacher I sat in awe and by the end of the presentation my head was spinning by possibilities. I said “Sign me up.”

As I joined Rotary, I saw opportunities to combine my passion for literacy, my profession, and my membership in both groups to improve communities. Throughout the past 8 years I have worked to connect the International Reading Association and Rotary in a variety of capacities.

Books Feeding Minds project participants. Photo courtsey of Judy Backlund.
Books Feeding Minds project participants. Photo courtsey of Judy Backlund.

Initially, my involvement was limited to small club-related projects such as local International Literacy Day events where our club filled and distributed backpacks for identified local school children. We also presented a backpack full of books and gift certificates to the first baby born in our county on International Literacy Day.

Then five years ago I began attending the IRA/Rotary International (IRARI) Special Interest Group meetings at the International Reading Association Conference. Three years ago I became the Chair of that group. I have to say that I have learned as much from my fellow IRARI members as I have given back.

My favorite collaborative idea that I gleaned, currently in our third year of implementation, is the Habitat for Humanity Bookshelves project. Twice a year our Rotary club partners with our local IRA Council to put together bookshelves full of books, specifically selected for the families supported by Habitat for Humanity. We then present them at the home dedication ceremonies. Our bookshelf project escalated into our joint Books Freeing Minds project where together Rotarians, Rotaractors and IRA members work together to collect, sort for appropriate books, and fill shelves at our local jail. And just last week we purchased a bookshelf for the local food bank meal program. Our groups will be working together to serve meals and keep the bookshelves full. We’re calling this our Keep Them Full project (bookshelves and bellies).

We have been involved in international projects as well. Just two years ago our club worked with IRA members on our Clothe the Body-Fill the Mind project. We spent months sewing pillowcase dresses and scarves, and selecting age- and culturally-appropriate books to be put in baggies with the clothing. Some of our club members were able to take these gifts to an orphanage in Juba, South Sudan.  We still have a relationship with this great safe haven for children.

If you are a Rotarian who believes that literacy changes lives, I encourage you, through your club, to connect with an IRA Council in or around your area.  Together your passion, service, and resources can connect in a positive way to make a difference.

Read the Rotary-International Reading Association fact sheet to learn more about this partnership.

Is your club working with a local International Reading Association affiliate or council on literacy projects? You may qualify for a literacy award

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