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The Bookworm Angels Story – How One Man’s Idea Changed Children’s Lives

By Barbara Keer

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Talking while walking with a good friend, we frequently ask one another about how one person can make the world a better place.  Recently, I heard about a man who did just that. His idea goes back thirteen years. That is when Kermit Meyers, a retired entrepreneur, came up with his idea.  As a retiree, Kermit served as a volunteer teacher’s aide at Richard Byrd Academy in Chicago’s Cabrini Green area with W.I.T.S. (Working In The Schools).  

A keen observer with an extensive background in many fields, Meyers developed several ideas that were eventually developed into a pilot program in three Cabrini area schools for three years with the program expanding to more schools in 2003.



His thinking was more or less as follows.  Working with at-risk children who typically read below grade level, were not interested in reading for recreation and were not exposed to “fun” reading at home, he was looking for ways to make reading appealing.  It was his belief that reading could be stimulated by: 1) Providing a lending library in each classroom with no penalty for lost or damaged books, and 2) Including parents/caregivers in at-home reading, requesting they spend time each night reading with their children (TV, CD, DVD and radio turned off).



Then he focused in the another direction, to the places where there are a surplus of children’s books, those families where reading is encouraged by parents and he concluded that there are thousands of books these families no longer use.  Book drives were begun, organized by local community organizations and schools and thousands of books were collected.

This program served one school in 1999 and by 2011, 200 schools were being served.  Kermit Meyers established Book Worm Angels twelve years ago.  The Website, bookwormangels.org is filled with information on the organization’s history, how to request books, how to volunteer and how to host a book drive.

Book Worm Angels provide gently used “fun” children’s books for in-classroom lending.  The 7-10 books per student (250 books per classroom) need to be available for at-home use.  A good friend of mine who is a Chicago Public School teacher working in a first grade classroom has been a recipient of these books for many years and believes her children greatly benefit from this program.

When I heard of this program, I could not help thinking of Robin Hood in that Book Worm Angels takes from those who have so much and gives to those who have so little.  Many individuals have been inspired to organize book drives.   A girl who graduated from Regina High School (Wilmette) in 2000 was determined to collect 2000 books. She did and in the process began a partnership of sort with “Half Price Books”. Needing more and more books after collecting from many sources, she asked if “Half Price Books” would contribute any books they were not selling to Book Worm Angels.  They did that and she met her goal.  And they continue to contribute books to Book Worm Angels.  Collecting books and recycling them is a positive action for the environment. Over 1000 book drives have been great projects for Boy and Girl Scouts, Bar and Bat Mitzvah, graduation, church groups, schools, businesses and more.





Since its modest beginning Book Worm Angels has expanded and now serves 177 Chicago Public School System elementary schools, 20 schools in Aurora, Illinois Gary and Hammond, Indiana, Atlanta, Georgia, Phoenix, Arizona, Fitchburg and Lowell, Massachusetts - over 100,000 students.  Just over 2,000,000 books have been received and distributed. Praised by school administration, principals, reading specialists and teachers this program has resulted in reading scores in BWA schools increasing at a rate 60% greater than the all-school average increase.

Future goals of Book Worm Angels include continued provision of books to partner schools where the majority of children read below level and expanding to other cities.  Schools that agree to be part of the program are provided with 7-10 books per student at no charge for in-classroom libraries. Every year thereafter, additional books are used to replenish the supply.

Are you inspired yet? You, too, can help with this very worthwhile effort.

 

For Book Drives and Collections, call:

For Information, call:

Mindy Ferber, Associate Director

Michael Ban, Executive Director

773-332-8091

773-388-8382

[email protected]

e-mail: [email protected]

 

www.bookwormangels.org

Photos: Courtesy of Book Worm Angels

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Published on Oct 12, 2011

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