By Coastal Breeze News Staff
For over eight years, the Marco Island Kiwanis Club has given books to area students through the Reading is Fundamental (RIF) program. More than 32,000 books, in fact. Three times per year, books are donated to the students at Tommie Barfield Elementary and Manatee Elementary. The club also provides for special requests from Manatee Elementary for items such as a World Book Encyclopedia, Science Encyclopedias, Math Problem Solving books and more. In other giveaways, backpacks, school supplies, socks, underwear uniforms and, at Christmastime, toys have been distributed as well.
When funds permitted special purchases were made, like a Thesaurus for each 5th grader graduating to Middle School. Two grants offered by the National RIF organization have been awarded to the Marco Island Kiwanis through the years. One purchased additional books for distribution. The other paid for school community events. At Manatee, a pizza dinner attracted families to create a “family book” with students while Tommie Barfield focused on an Authors and Artists event.
The Marco Island Kiwanis RIF program is run by Diana Pagach and Gayle Thawley. Diane handles the financial elements of the entire program and the distribution of books for Tommie Barfield Elementary. Gayle manages the RIF program for Manatee Elementary. Gayle, was a teacher for 34 years teaching pre-school through Junior College. She became hooked on RIF after a young boy asked her what he should do with his book. When she told him to take it home and keep it, he said he’d never had a book before and he started to cry. Another child touched Gayle’s heart when she said she read her book everyday at the bus stop. She said she read the same book each day because it was the only book she had.
Now, the Marco Island Academy Key Club collects past RIF books which they donate to Manatee Elementary. The recycled books have been either selected by teachers for a classroom library or put into a Book Exchange. The Book Exchange is an ongoing lending library where students donate their RIF book in exchange for another RIF book.
With every book giveaway there is a contest or activity. At the most recent Manatee distribution, in time for the holidays, the students were asked to close their eyes and think of someone who was instrumental in helping them learn to read. Then, they had to think of a second person. Each student was given two slips of paper with the words, “When I read I think of you. Thank you for making a difference in my learning.”
They were then told to give one slip of paper to each person they thought about. This simple gesture has already spread cheer among a few of the teachers. “It’s like giving goose bumps for Christmas,” Gayle laughs. Just imagine, there will be 1,400 people recognized for their educational impact from this simple exercise.
Though the grants no longer exist, thanks to federal government cuts, the Kiwanis Club has committed to funding the next distribution in Spring 2013 with its own funds. The RIF program will be funded through Kiwanis “one hot dog at a time,” as Gayle likes to say. Be sure to support Kiwanis hot dog sales at events like the Goodland Boat Parade, the Marco Island Car Show, the 4th of July celebration on the beach and many other special events.
As a result of community support, coupled with the school-wide emphasis on reading, there has been a noticeable improvement in the level of reading over the past eight years. Success at Manatee is evinced by an increasing need for higher level books and by the “A” rating the school has just earned. Kiwanis has inarguably played a role in the school’s move to the “Head of the Class.”