Holli Baker woke up one morning two years ago with an idea. As president of the Hartland-St. Albans Lions Club, she had been working on coming up with a service project that could impact the area in new and significant ways. Anyone familiar with the Lions Club knows they’re pretty civic minded and have collected unwanted eyeglasses to be repurposed for those who cannot afford a pair, as well as raising funds to offer scholarships to promising local high school graduates. Holli had been trying to come up with something new.
What about a family literacy fair? Holli went online to research who had done such events, how successful they had been and what worked best. After she presented her findings, the local club got behind the idea in a big way and in early April of 2016, they held such an event at the Irving Community Center adjacent to the Hartland Consolidated School. They tried to include exhibits, organizations and activities proven to get kids involved.
They expected 50 to attend. At one point, there were over 300 kids, parents and grandparents. The boxes of books they had collected vanished quickly. Perhaps the most telling observation came from the elementary school principal who said that she saw parents at the fair who had never set foot in the school before. It was a day well planned with amazing results.
Fast forward to March of 2017. Ellie Davids, former Lions Club president and member of the Hartland Public Library book group told club members about last years event and that it would be repeated on April 8th of 2017. Beth and I volunteered to help and when we discussed it with the newly formed Hartland friends of the library group, they expressed interest in supporting the fair.
We started collecting age appropriate books in new or gently read condition. Ellie, Beth and I went to the Bangor Literacy Volunteers office on the campus of Eastern Maine Community College where they graciously let us pick through their stash of donated books. We were floored at the variety and condition, returning with over 200. While the literacy fair is geared toward preschool through fourth grade, we wanted to make certain there were books available for older siblings. Ellie had said that last year they even had paperback fiction for parents and other adults to take home.
The night before the fair, club members sorted the books. There were two areas, one consisted of a series of tables with the new/like new books. Those were offered as prizes for children who visited all the stations (more about that in a moment). The other books were mostly ex-library copies and were on tables in the hallway with no limit on how many a child or parent could take.
Maine authors Lynn Plourde and Bette Stevens came and each read to children twice in the school library. The Hartland Public Library helped by buying new copies of their books to be signed and given to lucky listeners. In addition, Nick Berry, Hartland librarian, participated by having a table where he featured board games that he owns and demonstrated the connection between literacy and gaming.
The literacy fair was truly a community event with students from Nokomis High School representing, Junior ROTC, Future Business Leaders of America and Jobs For Maine’s Graduates (JMG) helping by processing registrations, providing face painting, as well as setting up and breaking down when the event was over. They were all poised and extremely competent. Several members of the Hartland Library friends group assisted as well.
Area businesses and other community groups pitched in, including Moose Lake Market (known in town as Rocky’s), Oakhurst Dairy (providing 5 crates of single serve white and chocolate milk cartons), Circle K in Newport, the Sebasticook Valley Credit Union and Literacy Volunteers. If I left any organizations out, I apologize.
This years fair was equally successful, The room was packed, everyone got a free bag lunch and those completing the check list by visiting all the event tables got at least 5 books. There were activities for everyone, including spontaneous theater, reading by flashlight in a tent, handling animal furs, etc. while talking to a Maine game warden, getting information on adult education programs and getting a GED, reading to pets (probably the most popular activity), planting seeds, health screenings and vision exams (more than one parent was flabbergasted to learn their child had a vision problem), dental exams, literacy volunteer information for adults interested in learning to read and many more (see the photo of the poster).
Every child got a new book bag with age appropriate supplies inside. Students from both the Hartland and St. Albans elementary schools had gotten involved ahead of time in a couple ways. They had an art contest with the paintings hung on the wall behind the prize books table and they wrote their own books which were on display at the fair. Several young authors had their works selected for excellence and received prizes.
It was an event that generated a ton of smiles and the look of excitement and anticipation as kids went home with new books to enjoy made the day well worth all the time and effort. In addition to the photos I’ve included, you can see more on my Facebook page.