Jim Worrell of DeKalb describes himself as a voracious reader, usually having a book in his hands when he sits down to relax.
As a young boy, Worrell remembers staying up late to read a set of Hardy Boys books his grandma gave him – the beginning of his love for reading. He still has some of the books in the set. To pass on his love of reading, Worrell gave his grandson a set Hardy Boys books of his own.
“Reading is so important,” Worrell said. “Every subject in school uses reading. Reading is the beginning and source of all your knowledge.”
To help instill a love of reading in local children, Worrell and a team of volunteers build bookcases for the DeKalb/Sycamore Bookcase Project. Each year, the project gives 50 oak bookcases as starter libraries to preschool students from low-income families enrolled at Two Rivers Head Start.
The DeKalb/Sycamore Bookcase Project, started 2012, has provided 300 bookcases and thousands of books to local children. The project is modeled after A Bookcase for Every Child, started by Jim Davidson in 2005 in Conway, Arkansas.
The bookcases, which include the child’s name engraved on a brass nameplate by Chilton’s Sporting Goods, will be stocked with books in an effort to encourage reading and promote literacy.
To fundraise for the project, a Bookcase Literacy Banquet will be hosted at 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 13, at the DeKalb High School cafeteria, 501 W. Dresser Road. Cost is $18 a person or $140 for a table of eight. Entertainment will be provided by a DeKalb High School musical group.
Guests are encouraged to bring donations of gently used or new books for 3- to 4-year-old children. Donations also can be dropped off at the DeKalb Housing Authority, 310 N. Sixth St. in DeKalb.
While supplies last, banquet attendees will receive a copy of “Learning, Earning and Giving Back: A Guide to a Happy and Successful Life,” by Jim Davidson.
John Rey, chairman and founder of the DeKalb/Sycamore Bookcase Project, said the literacy banquet and donations of books help support the project’s goal of sparking a love of reading and learning.
“I want the children to have the feeling of pride, satisfaction and pleasure of knowing that they have something of their own,” Rey said. “They will have their own books and a piece of furniture with their name on it. The hope is to instill a love of reading and literature in children who might not have books or a bookcase of their own otherwise.”
Planning for the project began in November when Worrell ordered the materials needed for the bookcases. The supplies arrived in late December. In early January, Worrell and his team of volunteers started to cut 4-by-8-foot sheets of pretreated oak plywood with a CNC router table.
Assembling each bookcase with an air stapler, wood glue and a brad nailer takes about 20 minutes. The last steps are to attach finished oak molding and a nameplate to each bookcase. It takes Worrell and his volunteers until the end of April to complete all 50 bookcases.
When finished, the bookcases are about 32 inches tall and 30 inches wide with an adjustable middle shelf.
“The bookcases are designed to be in scale with other furniture in a kid’s room and for children to be able to see and reach the books on both shelves,” Worrell said. “The oak is a neutral finish, which matches most décors. The bookcases will last for a long, long time, and we hope the children will one day hand them down to their children.”
In April, the donated books are sorted by volunteers from the community and the Northern Illinois University College of Education. Once the books are sorted, they are assigned to a child and placed in that child’s bookcase. Each bookcase will have between 35 and 40 books.
The bookcases will be awarded to 50 Two Rivers Head Start preschool students at an awards ceremony May 5 at Faranda’s Banquet Center in DeKalb.
“The ceremony may be the first public or community ceremony that many of the children have experienced,” Rey said. “The children’s entire family is invited, and everyone is dressed up. The boys wear suits and the girls wear their fanciest dresses. It is an important and very special occasion in their lives. … They are receiving not only books and a bookcase, they are receiving the gift of literature and reading. It’s an opportunity for them to realize that a community loves them and will be there to support them throughout their life.”
Although the 3- to 5-year-old preschoolers who receive the bookcases have only beginning-level literacy, Kathryn Rife, a family worker at Two Rivers Head Start, said the gift of books and a bookcase help peak the children’s interest in reading.
“Instead of watching TV or playing a video game, they can go and pick out a book – their book – from their bookcase,” Rife said. “We as an agency, the families and the children are so grateful for the community coming together for this project. It shows that there is an overwhelming amount of community support. We are in awe and are extremely appreciative and thankful for all the volunteers and people who help make the project possible.”