As Julia Aker and Billie Richardson took turns reading pages of the “I Like Me” book, kindergartners at Zion Lutheran School in Seymour followed along.
The kids’ faces lit up when they heard not only their own name in the book but also the names of two of their classmates, teacher and principal.
When it came to those names in the book, Aker or Richardson stopped reading, and the kids said the names in unison.
Each book was personalized for them to take home as a keepsake.
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That was pretty neat, the kids agreed.
“It was cool having my classmates’ names in it and my name in it and my teacher’s name,” Sam Dyer said.
Eli Tempest also thought it was cool to see his name in a book, and he liked being able to learn a variety of things from it.
“My favorite page was the one that had the colors on it,” Eli said, noting that the class recently learned the colors.
Another feature of the book is an autograph section and a place to put their picture.
“I like how I got the autographs,” Merrek Combs said.
“The book was very nice,” Maycie Ward added.
For more than 15 years, the Seymour Rotary Club has been involved with this project. Aker, the club’s president-elect who has been a member for 10 years, said it started with just Seymour students.
Several years ago, when the club was looking for funding, Aker asked the Friends of the Library to help. She also is director of the Jackson County Public Library.
Those members said they would help only if the project went countywide. So for the past few years, books have been distributed to kindergartners at all public and private schools in Jackson County.
Aker said it’s the only project the Friends group funds outside of the library, and members are happy to help.
“The funding request for this is one of the big ones that we really enjoy doing,” Richardson said. “This is one of the largest ones we do, and we all agreed that we want to support that and fund that. Literacy, we are all about that, and of course, we’re all about books.”
This year, more than 600 kids received an “I Like Me” book for a cost of $5,600, which came from Rotary, the Friends group and local businesses. Friends of the Library’s contribution came from money made during book sales and the Seymour Oktoberfest parking lot.
For that group and Rotary, community service and literacy are two key components. Both came together in this project.
“There are several Rotary clubs in southern Indiana that do these,” said Aker, who used to be the club’s district literacy chairwoman. Rotary started in Chicago in 1905, and Seymour has had a club since 1919.
Aker said Rotary member Bill Klaes has been involved with the project since its inception in Seymour, and fellow member Chris Booth helped contact donors.
Once the club gathered students’ names from kindergarten teachers, they typed up all of the information and sent it to the book company in Kansas City, Missouri. When the books arrived, club members divided them up and delivered them to schools.
Some just dropped them off, while others took time to read to the kids.
Both Richardson and Aker said they liked sharing the good message of the book.
“The values that it portrays in the whole book, and the children are so excited when they see their name and especially their friends’ names, they love that,” Richardson said.
“Some of the messages are really good. Some of them are a little bit over a kindergartner, but I think there are still some good messages there,” Aker said. “Kindergarten is really when kids start getting in that organized group and learning that you need to sit and you need to learn how to read.”
It’s also good because they get to take the book home, Aker added.
“Some kids don’t have books at home, and this is their book that they may have at home,” she said. “I like that it’s got their name in it, two of their friends, their teacher and their principal because if they find that book when they are a senior in high school, they can look back.”
Janeen Keinath, a kindergarten teacher at Zion, said the school has received the books for several years.
“This book reminds us that God gives us friends who encourage us to make good choices,” Keinath said. “He gives us talents and many opportunities to serve Him and others through our words and actions.”
The personalization of the books is good, too, she said.
“It makes it very special to see their own names in the printed word, and just to see their friends’ names, that’s what you could hear from the excitement when they were all reading that,” she said. “I think it gives them a good sense of they are someone important and they are special and that there is nothing that they cannot do. It gives them a good work ethic for that.”
Keinath said promoting that “can-do” attitude at an early age is important.
“By this time of kindergarten, they are recognizing that there are things that they could achieve, and they start seeing some of their good, hard work come to a good benefit,” she said. “It kind of motivates them to continue on and know that there are going to be challenges but not to give up.”
Keinath also appreciates everyone who contributes to the project.
“It is a very nice gift, and it’s an exciting thing for the community,” she said. “(The students) are excited to send thank-you notes to those companies. It’s enhancing, it’s growing our community, it’s growing our kids.”
To help fund next year’s “I Like Me” book project, contact Julia Aker at 812-405-1827.