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Businesses Help Link to Libraries Carry Out Its Critical Mission

Susan Jaye-Kaplan says the Business Book Link Project

Susan Jaye-Kaplan says the Business Book Link Project is about far more than monetary donations.

When Susan Jaye-Kaplan and Janet Crimmins founded the Link to Libraries program in 2008, their mission was simple: to put free books in the hands of needy children who might not otherwise have them in their homes.

Their success has been laudatory, and since that time, more than 225,000 new books in seven languages have been distributed to students in preschool through grade 7 through schools and nonprofit organizations. But it would not have been possible without help from local businesses, whose generous contributions of time and money have made a significant difference in the lives of local children.

To that end, Link to Libraries launched its Business Book Link project in September 2013 to raise awareness about the program, and 51 companies signed up and agreed to two requirements: to perform some sort of volunteer service at the school they adopt and make a donation of $1,200 a year for three consecutive years, with the guarantee that the school or group will receive 250 to 400 books each year to give away or put in their library.

“It’s important to build home libraries because 60% of the children we serve have never owned a book,” Jaye-Kaplan told BusinessWest, adding that more than 85% of the children in schools Link to Libraries works with qualify for free lunch.

Businesses that join the program visit the school they adopt, where they meet the principal, are taken on a tour of the building, and receive a plaque as well as a wish list of intangible and tangible things the school needs but cannot afford.

However, Jaye-Kaplan said they are not mandated to provide anything on the list. Instead, they talk with the principal and figure out what they can do to help that is mutually agreeable, which can be as simple as sending someone to read a book to a classroom.

Jaye-Kaplan said a business with six employees decided to knit hats, mittens, and scarves for children who needed them, while others have taken students on tours of their workplaces or purchased a computer, TV, or picnic tables for a school’s playground.

But the most critical component of the program is the relationships that are forged. “This program is about far more than making a monetary donation,” said Jaye-Kaplan, explaining that, when a business professional takes time to interact with children in a way that promotes literacy, it encourages them to read and lets them see that people in the community care about their future.

Crimmins says the experience is rewarding for volunteers.

“It’s easy for our community business partners to get hooked when they realize the program is an opportunity to put their resources to work by offering children exposure to their world,” she said. “Whether they send an employee to a school to provide computer tutoring or take students on a field trip, the activity ignites the children’s natural curiosity. And once their interest is sparked, they are encouraged to read a book about the topic.”

Unexpected Benefits

David Kalicka told BusinessWest that being involved with Link to Libraries, which provided 70,000 new books and 3,000 gently used tomes to children in fiscal year 2014 alone, is a gratifying experience. He’s a partner at Meyers Brothers Kalicka, CPA, and his wife is a guidance counselor at Sullivan Elementary School in Holyoke, which the firm adopted.

“I have a deep connection to Holyoke schools; I graduated from Holyoke High and believe literacy is critical to children and businesses have an obligation to give back to the community,” he said. “Although this is not the only organization we are involved with, it’s very rewarding to see the excitement on the children’s faces when I visit the school, read to them, and give them books to take home.”

Bill Trudeau concurs, and said that when he made the decision to have the Insurance Center of New England join the Business Book Link project, he had no idea his wife and children would become involved and that he would find the program so rewarding, he would convince another business to sign up and adopt a school.

But that’s exactly what happened.

“Reading is so important, and it’s easy to see the results of this program. It strengthens the Pioneer Valley in many different ways,” Trudeau said as he spoke about children at the Martin Luther King Charter School of Excellence in Springfield, which his firm adopted.

But despite the altruism of many local businesses, Link to Libraries still has 28 schools on its waiting list, and the need for help continues to grow.

“Getting sponsors is a big challenge for us, so we are thrilled when a business wants to visit our site and learn about our grassroots organization,” Jaye-Kaplan said, adding that making a large financial donation is unnecessary. “Having heart and soul and a commitment to the community is what is important.”

She noted that 90 cents of every dollar donated is used to purchase books, and the $1,200 businesses donate to the program annually does not cover the cost of the tomes the school they adopt receives.

Grants and private donations make up the difference, and she has forged strong relationships with publishers who provide discounted pricing, and with educators who provide lists of books appropriate for different age groups.

“We also work very closely with the Irene and George Davis Foundation, as they are the leaders in education in Western Mass.,” she continued.

Limitless Possibilities

Link to Libraries has a Read Aloud Program for elementary-school students, one for homeless children, and another that provides every kindergartner in Springfield, Chicopee, and Holyoke with a welcome bag containing a bookmark, books, and educational materials from the Davis Foundation and Big Y.

“The children we serve today are the leaders, parents, and employees of the future,” Jaye-Kaplan said. “Books are food for the brain, and the Business Book Link project allows local companies to give children a gift that is truly meaningful.”

Businesses or individuals who want to learn more about the Link to Libraries Business Book Link program are invited to call (413) 224-1031 or e-mail [email protected]

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