During the school year, Tori Hopper sees plenty of parents and grandparents bringing children into the Columbus-Lowndes Public Library looking for the same things — an Accelerated Reader book for a school-aged child.
Accelerated Reader is a literacy program employed at area school districts that match students with books on their reading grade level. Hopper, the library’s children and teen services/programming coordinator, said the library doesn’t currently cater to that program.
“The books need labels because we don’t label them currently, while every school library does for the most part, and it causes a bit of a divide when our smallest patrons come looking for a book on their AR level and nothing is labeled to determine whether they’re able to read it to assist them in school or not,” Hopper told Columbus Exchange Club on Thursday at Lion Hills Center.
The library, one of 10 area nonprofits to receive Exchange Club grants on Thursday, plans to use those funds to label the books to better serve patrons participating in AR at their schools.
“It will definitely make a difference and help improve the lives of students across the county who use our libraries to find books on their current AR levels,” Hopper said. “The labels will help them locate books quickly that will assist them in their schoolwork when they don’t have ready access to their school libraries. We’re looking to bridge that divide and be of the best help we can be as the community’s public library.”
Exchange Club funds grants annually to assist nonprofits that use the money for programs that serve children.
Other recipients included Columbus Arts Council, the Hitching Lot Farmers Market, Contact Helpline, HEARTS After School Tutoring Program, My Book, North MS Exchange Family Center in Oxford, the Pushmataha Area Council for the Boy Scouts, Safe Haven and the YMCA.
Barbara Bigelow, an Exchange Club member and director for Main Street Columbus, which coordinates the Farmers Market, said the grant money will help expand children’s programming during market season and beyond.
“We do special kids’ activities on that Saturday, petting zoo, pony rides, all kinds of fun things,” Bigelow told the club. “We recently had the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science out. She had snakes that some of the kids loved, some of them did not. I’ll tell you — that snake felt like a piece of silk. I touched it. Anyway, it’s the things like that we’re able to do that kids love.”
When partnering with the YMCA and the Columbus Housing Authority, Columbus Main Street purchased backpacks that were filled with school supplies for 50 children last year. Plans call for another backpack giveaway before school starts in August.
“That’s what your funds have done as well as enhanced our activities for the kids throughout the whole Farmers Market season, so I cannot thank you enough,” Bigelow said.
Exchange holds fundraisers throughout the year to fund the grants, including an annual cheese sale that did not happen in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Club president Matt Brown said Exchange rebounded from that challenge and is looking a more diverse fundraising options this year.
“As the saying goes, every little bit helps,” Brown said. “By us being able to give back to (these nonprofits), they are able to further their project and their mission to meet the needs of the community.”
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