Holland’s United Methodist Church’s youth-led group set an ambitious goal for itself: collect 20,000 donated books as part of the state’s Give Five, Read Five initiative.
The group’s ideas for reaching that goal even got the attention of the state’s superintendent.
Volunteers from the Garner-area church will all but certainly surpass its goal, collecting about a sixth as many books as were donated last year in the entire state.
“It’s been amazing. I’m actually shocked that the community has put so much effort and helped us out,” said Libby Bowes, a Garner Magnet High School student who has been leading the effort over the past several weeks. “I like to set my goals high, so I wasn’t going to be disappointed if we didn’t get there. But I always had this little hope that ‘maybe we could do it.’”
On April 12, the group gathered at the warehouse, where the donated books are stored, to sort the most recent batch collected from schools, businesses and community groups.
An assembly line separated the books by reading level so they could be organized on four 12-foot tables that were placed end to end. Every inch of tabletop was buried under stacks from about four to 10 books deep.
The idea for mass collection, sorting and redistributing to teachers caused State Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson to take notice.
She launched the initiative in 2013 in an effort to fight reading capabilities lost over the summer, particularly among students with less access to books.
The name comes from the idea of giving five books to any student who wants or needs them.
Last year, 123,000 books were donated. This year, bigger things are expected, and Atkinson has used the youths from Holland’s as a positive example.
Atkinson has met multiple times with the group, which intends to have five level-appropriate books available for every elementary student in the Garner area’s eight schools.
“The first time we talked to her ... I was sort of intimidated,” Bowes said. “As the meeting went on, I just realized she’s nothing out of the ordinary, she’s just like we are. And now that we’ve met with her multiple times, it’s like seeing an old friend.”
Holland’s Pastor Brian Wellborn recruited Bowes to lead the effort, along with about a dozen other students and adults.
He views the mission as an opportunity to provide a service, teach young people leadership and interpersonal skills and help others at the church, which is south of town limits on Ten Ten Road, see the intersection of faith and day-to-day life.
Wellborn said most teenagers wouldn’t be able to just walk into a formsal business setting and talk the owners into collecting books for the schools, but he put high school students in charge and guided from behind.
“I had no doubt it would play out this way. It’s been amazing for me,” Wellborn said. “It’s neat to think about the kids getting the books…But especially to see the youth leadership around this, to see that develop.”