kindness activist

kindness activist

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Books - WE DID IT

My friends, we did it.

I asked for your help, your kindness, and you overwhelmingly responded.  It was the perfect reminder to me that, as Helen Keller said, “Alone, I can do so little.  Together, we can do so much.”

When I heard that the Reading Coach at Gomez Heritage Elementary School, Tanya Becker, had died suddenly at only 48 years old, it moved me.  And as I saw her co-workers, mostly my sister Sherry, grieve for the tremendous loss, I decided that I wanted to do something.  But in situations like that, what is there to DO, right?  Send a card, maybe bake a casserole… Those types of situations feel so overwhelming that it seems like nothing can be done.

Gomez Heritage Elementary School
Maybe it was because I was taking serious painkillers for a surgery I had just had, but I thought of an idea: COLLECT ENOUGH DONATED BOOKS TO GIVE ONE TO EVERY CHILD AND STAFF MEMBER AT TANYA’S SCHOOL.  Reading was her mission, and by giving everyone a book, we could help carry that mission on!

Tanya Becker, an inspirational woman
So I texted my sister and asked if she thought the idea would be a respectful way to honor Tanya and if the school would allow me to do it.  She thought it sounded great, so a plan had been born. 

Only, in my drugged up post-surgery state, I hadn’t considered EVERYTHING…  Most blatantly, I hadn’t asked the critical question, “How many books/people are we talking about here?”.   And now that the project is done and we have succeeded, I guess I am glad I didn’t ask for numbers in the beginning, because hearing the answer – a little over 1,000 books needed to be collected in only one month – might have scared me away!!

I set about DOING.  I looked through my own bookshelves for books in good shape that I could donate.  But the most important thing I did was to write a blog piece that explained the mission, the project.  I posted it, and it started to spread.  People read it.  People contacted me.  People shared the post.  And it grew, oh boy did it grow!!  To date well over 4,000 people have read it!  You can see the original story here:  Your Kindness Needed post

Then, the most beautiful thing happened -  people got involved.  I got emails from so many kind-hearted souls wanting to pitch in!  I was honored to hear from some of Tanya’s family members, sorority sisters, and former classmates and students.  Her co-workers at Gomez contacted me.  Schools contacted me.  Offices pitched in.  Facebook groups of KIND PEOPLE shared and donated. People from all over the country were eager to help out, many (like me) who had never had the good fortune of meeting Tanya.

Books starting arriving.
And they just KEPT ON COMING!

Kemper and Tallis with just a few of the
donated books at their house!

And before long, the books and gift cards started arriving.  It was fabulous!!  We set up 4 drop off points: my house in Arlington, VA for my neighbors who had read the story, my 2 sister’s houses, and my niece’s house (all in the Omaha area).  About a week after I wrote about the project, my phone started buzzing.  Things were arriving every single day!!  One sister would text and say, “A box of books from this person was on my porch when I got home from work!”.  The other sister would text and say, “The UPS man brought another box of brand new books!!”.  My niece would text and say, “My friends all chipped in – we have lots more books!!”. 
This one was great -
Sam I Am becomes Juan Ramon in the Spanish version!
Dr. Seuss books arrived!
We got "Goodnight iPad"

"Goodnight Moon", too

Authors like Mary Amato sent autographed books!
You guys, seeing people getting involved was so inspiring!  Our goal of 1,000 books seemed huge, but as more people pitched it, it began to look more and more doable.  Even AUTHORS donated and were gracious enough to autograph their books!!  A non-profit group in Omaha offered to help us meet our goal if we needed assistance.  And one retired teacher in Omaha donated her WHOLE COLLECTION of books that she had used in the classroom for years – boxes and boxes and boxes of books!  It was amazing!

Mrs. Rohwer's husband delivered her entire collection of classroom books!

A very special in-person book deliver from Mrs. Becker's family 
You might recognize Kindness Activist Brenda,
seen here delivering books she and her
office mates collected!

Author/Editor Megan Scribner autographing two very special books to donate
We got books of every type you can imagine.  We got:  paperbacks, hard covers, Spanish, picture books, adult books, kid books, books of literally every size, shape, and topic imaginable!!!!  And I had some stickers designed to put inside the front covers of each book to remind the recipients how much Mrs. Becker loved them, and of the importance of continuing to READ!

This was the image on the stickers - Mrs. Becker often made her hands into this heart shape
As books continued to pour in, I realized I had to go to Omaha for the delivery.  I mean, the whole project was so inspiring and it was growing by leaps and bounds, so I didn’t want to miss the big delivery day!  I booked a ticket on Southwest Airlines, knowing that they allow for 2 free checked bags and anticipating I would use that allowance to haul BOOKS! 

I flew to Omaha (with 98.5 lbs of luggage, most of which was books!) a few days before the “giveaway” day and we set about ORGANIZING.  We needed 1,000 books, but we got FAR, FAR more than that!!  We ended up getting over 5,000 books!!!  Yes, FIVE TIMES the amount we asked for!!  We didn’t even have to contact the non-profit who was our “back-up” in case we didn’t meet the goal.  It was so inspiritng!!!  It was also exhausting, and took a houseful of family members hours and hours to organize. 

Annette, going through a box of donations

Even the school PRINCIPAL, Mr. Campin, helped out!

At the end of the organizing party - whew there were LOTS of books (this picture only shows a fraction of them!)

Stickers getting ready to be put in
Because we had so many books, it allowed us to not only give a book to each Gomez person, but to help stock a reading area at the school that the PTO Is planning in Mrs. Becker’s memory, and ALSO to help some brand new teachers at the school start their very own classroom libraries!  We know that Tanya would have been thrilled to help with that. 

My sister Sherry and I filmed a piece to be shown on the school news the morning of the giveaway so that each classroom would understand the project.  We wanted to be honest without being too sad, and to speak to the students on their level.  We decided to end the piece by reading a book called, “The Goodbye Book” by Todd Parr, a children’s author that I love.  Let me just say this; we had to practice a few times before filming to make sure we could get through the book without crying too hard.  You can see the Gomez video here: Gomez TV Mrs. Becker story (scroll down until you see us in yellow and blue t-shirts).

The day of the giveaway was overwhelming.  Students and staff were SO APPRECIATIVE.  

We began by displaying the adult books in a teacher work room, and also putting up a shadow box we had made in Tanya’s memory.  As soon as the books were out, teachers and staff began coming in and looking through them.  It was terrific.   

Shadow Box for Gomez

Adult books ready for staff to peruse!
We had pre-sorted the books separated into reading levels, so when the bell rang and school started we were ready to go!  My sisters and I each had a decorated cart piled high with books for the grade level we were going to visit, and off we went!!  We started with the itty bitties, and boy was it beautiful!!

Would anyone like a BOOK??  :)
In each classroom I explained why I was there and then laid far more books than were needed on a rug.  We wanted to make sure that not only did students get a book, but they had a CHOICE in their book.  They.  Loved.  It.  Some kids literally squealed with delight at the idea of getting their very own book to bring home with them!!!  I heard this phrase often throughout the day, “But there are soooo many books, too many to choose!!!!!”  One little boy described the rug full of books to choose from as a “BOOK VOLCANO”!!!!  And one child in a second grade classroom that Sherry visited proclaimed that the book he was given was his very first ever book to keep.  Imagine!! 

The book hand-out crew
We got so many hugs, so many thank you s, and some tears from teachers.  But most of all, we got LOVE.  It was clear that this day of giving, this day of books, meant far more than words on paper.  It was a day to remember Tanya, to celebrate her life and her mission, to grieve. 

So friends, THANK YOU.  Thanks to those who sent books, donations, or gift cards.  Thanks to those who sent encouraging words.  Thanks to those who believed we could do it!  WE DID IT!!!!!!

Special thanks to the on-the-scene helpers:  Sherry, Jim, Annette, Jordan, Zach, Ashlee (who also helped at Gomez), Kemper, Tallis, and Ryker

Lessons learned from this humongous act of kindness:

·         If you ask for help, you are likely to get it
·         In times of sorrow, people want to help but are not sure how to.  If you give them something concrete to do, they appreciate it.  They have a way to help, and their actions make the world a better place.
·         Children are very appreciative.
·         There are plenty of kind people in the world.
·         Don’t be afraid to set a lofty goal – because you just might reach it.

That’s a wrap!  We do not need any more donations, so if you have books to give, please consider donating them to another charity. 

Thanks for being SO KIND.

The end of a very long, very beautiful, VERY SPECIAL day.  There are signs all around the school that proclaim their values, but I didn't notice the one on the door behind us until now:  GRATITUDE.
Yes, gratitude that such a wonderful lady touched so many lives and brought so much love to the world.
Tanya Becker, you are missed.  

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