Cultural Anthropologist Margaret Mead’s words have been proven over and over to be true: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Once again, a small group of citizens did just that this past weekend. Of course, small is a relative term, because it took many people with a common vision to do what we were able to do on May 16th. A group of teachers from the Kenmore Teachers Association (KTA) worked together with First Book, NEA, NYSUT, the Steelworkers Local 135, the Western New York Area Labor Federation and the Clean Air Coalition to do what many thought was impossible. We put brand new free books into the hands of hundreds of children who would not have had access to these books any other way. The smiles on the children’s faces said it all. Some little ones even sat right down on the floor and started reading or looking at the pictures. Teenagers hugged their books and smiled as they left. Teachers cried as they described how they couldn’t wait to get to school on Monday and give their students these books and how this would impact their classrooms.
Giving children books is a powerful tool in achieving authentic literacy. Learning to read is critical to a child’s success in school and in life. A child without access to books won’t have the opportunity to become an engaged and capable reader. This is the reality for so many children in our community. Today, many parents work two jobs to make ends meet, so purchasing books is not a priority. Teachers know just how important it is for children to have books in their homes that they want to read. Partnering up with First Book was a natural extension of how teachers affect students beyond the classroom. Partnering up with our local trade unions was an incredibly effective way to directly put books into the hands of kids.
At a time when the focus of education is heavily bent toward data and accountability, we have lost sight of the joy of watching children read and learn to love books. It seems too that we have lost sight of the impact that our teachers and our organized labor forces have on our communities in Western New York. We are fortunate to have such dedicated people who are able to work together for the betterment of neighborhoods and our children.
It is said that the devil is in the details, but I believe the beauty is in the details. Over the course of several months, this “small” project grew and took on a life of its own. The combined effort to support literacy and to bring books to kids created a situation where our professional union worked with local trade unions and other groups of committed community organizers to make giving away over 5,000 books a reality. I am in awe of these people and the capacity of organized labor. It was the structure and framework inherent in unions along with the networking capability and the belief in solidarity as an organization that made this possible. Our communities depend on these efforts to be strong and viable. Without our union members and our commitment to our neighborhoods and our districts, we lose more than we gain. Saturday was an example of the value of unions and how a “small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world”. We changed the world of many children in a way that can’t be quantified.
I want to thank everyone who was a part of making this happen:
KTA Board Members and LAP team members: Peter Stuhlmiller, Elaine Altman, Cheryl Hughes, Joi Chimera, and Bill Conrad. Without your support, your efforts and your belief that we could make this happen, I don’t know how we could have done this. You are all my heroes.
Richard Lipsitz, President of the Western New York Area Labor Federation: You have been a cheerleader for this project. Thank you for your efforts to connect us to the Steelworkers and the Clean Air Coalition along with other area labor organizations.
Rebecca Newberry of the Clean Air Coalition: You have also been a cheerleader for this project and have gone out of your way to help get the word out. You are amazing and I am in awe.
Tom O’Shei, President of the Steelworkers Local 135 and the rest of the members: Thank you for donating your people and your building to our project. You all went above and beyond to make this a success.
Leslie Getzinger from AFT and Katie Donlieve from First Book: You ladies are incredible and we are looking forward to continuing our work with you as we get the remaining 16,000 books into Western New York.
The Volunteers: Kenmore West Rugby Club who helped unload the truck, Kara Zuccari, Penny DiPasquale, Shawn Bartel, Colleen Carney, Wesley Brown, Dan Dudley, Elaine Korczykowski, MaryLynn Bieron, Aiden Bieron, Lucinda Farrauto, Lynne Akin, Sharon Shultz, Kathy Reiser, Debbie Peters, Lisa Mitchell, Amy Grosofsky, Katie Wood, Tom Perryman, Becca Lambert, Grace Morrison, Jeanette Yoder, Mike Fiels, Eric Ridgeway, Elaine Smith, Cali Smith, Jerry Smith, Andrew Gianni, Tracy Spagnolo and many others whose names I missed: You gave from your heart and worked so hard. Words cannot express my gratitude.
Most importantly, my daughter Hannah and my husband Carl Falletta: you support me in so many ways. Thank you for creating doing the Child Safe ID’s from the Erie County Sheriff’s Department for so many children today. Thanks for being my biggest fans. I love you both.