By ASHLEIGH LIVINGSTON
---- — CHAZY — North Country youth will have greater access to reading materials thanks to the efforts of students at Chazy Central Rural School.
The High School Key Club recently hosted a book drive for which Chazy Elementary students collected 972 books to be given to the local Journey into Reading program.
Founded by Alice Sample, of Plattsburgh, the program strives to promote early childhood literacy among area children.
From 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. every Thursday, Sample and program volunteers set up shop near the ball machine in Plattsburgh’s Champlain Centre Mall. There, they offer to read aloud to children passing by and give a free book to those who oblige.
“Children in the community will see me and say, ‘look, there’s the book lady,’” Sample said.
While the organization focuses on reaching children to age 5, anyone 18 or younger is welcome to participate.
“We are the only one (program) in the world that does what we do,” Sample told the Press-Republican during a recent visit to Chazy Elementary to accept the school’s donation.
The Key Club, comprised of about 60 members, took on the book drive project after the club’s faculty adviser, Steven Cross, noticed the literacy program, which his daughter takes part in, was experiencing a shortage of children’s reading materials.
“Passing on the joy of reading to kids is important,” Cross said.
So club members decorated boxes and asked each of the school’s elementary classes to do their best to fill the boxes with new or used children’s books.
“Giving back to the community is great, especially if it’s going back to the kids,” said Key Club member Olivia Blais, who is in 10th grade at the school. “Learning to read is great, and having a new book is even better.”
To motivate students to participate in the drive, which took place during the entire month of November, the Key Club counted the books in each class’ box every week and promised an ice-cream party to the class that amassed the most donations by the end of the competition.
When the drive concluded on Nov. 30, third-grade teacher Lori Favro’s class emerged as the winner, having collected 156 books.
“This particular group is a very giving group,” Favro said of her students.
One such student, Hadley Lucas, contributed to her class’ success by asking her family members for books to donate.
Lucas said she wanted to participate in the drive “to help little kids to learn more so they can read to have fun.”
For Sample, the idea to create Journey into Reading came after working with kindergarten students and discovering that those who were less academically advanced than their peers were those who weren’t being read to.
“That’s a horror,” she said, adding that individuals who are not read to when they are very young often struggle with literacy for the rest of their lives.
The organization’s volunteers read to between 70 and 80 children each week.
The program also provides information for parents about the importance of reading regularly to children.
“We want people to read to their kids,” said Sample, who credits the majority of her organization’s success to overwhelming support from the community.
Without donations and book drives, she said, Journey into Reading would have difficulty carrying out its literacy mission.
For more information about Journey into Reading, visit journeyintoreading.org
— Contributing Writer Mitchel Ayer assisted with this report.