A Day On, Not a Day Off

By Lynette Tillery, AmeriCorps member serving with The Boys and Girls Clubs of Wake County, primarily based at the Raleigh Boy’s Club. Tillery serves as the literacy specialist, providing tutoring help in all subjects for grades kindergarten through eighth grade. She is also currently piloting a program called Brain Gain Read, a literacy program used to close the learning gap between lower- and higher- income students for kindergarten through third grade. This post originated on the AmeriCorps blog.

“Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

The MLK Day of Service came about through the heroic acts of Martin Luther King Jr, a renowned civil rights activist that used non-violent protests to fight for equal rights for African Americans. Legislation was passed in 1983 to recognize Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday as a federal holiday and as a national day of service. This day is used to bridge the gap between communities, advocate for social justice, and to bring us closer to vision outlined in the famous “I Have a Dream” speech by Dr. King.

All across the country, Americans participate in this day through various acts of service – whether it be community beautification projects, gathering and giving supplies to those in need, or building new homes, you can be sure to find someone answering one of Dr. King’s famous quote which is “Life’s most persistent and urgent question… ‘What are you doing for others?’” through their selfless service. On that note, I got to serve with North Carolina LiteracyCorps in conjunction with Book Harvest on this service day.

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Learning about Book Harvest’s mission, I began to reflect on my own service with The Raleigh Boy’s Club and the role that books played in my life as a child. I thought about two brothers in my Kindergarten and 1st grade class that sat down and read Green Eggs and Ham simultaneously to me as they stumbled over words that I promptly corrected. I watched the eagerness and glee on their faces as they recalled a word I helped them with. I wondered if they have books at home to read with an adult.

I thought about one of my 7th graders that I usually provide help to when it comes to his reading and social studies projects. Usually, he tries to get me in some way or another to do his projects for him as he tells me that he is unsure of what he needs to do. He always asks me, “I’m smart right, Ms. Lynette?” My response is always “Yes” and I would point out that he did most of his work without my help. He would then proceed to brag to his friends. I wondered if anyone read with and encouraged him when he was younger.

I thought about one of my 8th graders who told me he didn’t like to read. He had an upcoming project that was due on the book Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief and wanted my help to catch up on missing assignments for this project. I went to one of our book shelves and found the book that he needed. I promptly banned him from participating in other activities at the club as reading this book was his number one priority from me. Three days later, he informed me that the book was great and recounted to me all that he had read. I wondered if anyone else had encouraged him to read at home.

Finally, I thought about myself. I thought about the many books that I have inside my bookshelf that range from classical novels to Japanese manga that I readily spent any funds on that I came across. I thought about the Battle for the Books competition that I participated in every year during middle school and eating lunch in my high school’s library every day. I thought about how every time I step foot in a book store I instantly feel like a kid in a candy shop. I thought about how books opened up a whole new world for me and allowed me to live vicariously through the characters and forget about the troubles that accompanies living in a low-income home. On this I didn’t have to wonder – no one read to me at home as a child.

Because of Book Harvest, this MLK Day of Service had become personal.

Standing outside on MLK Day with temperatures ranging from 28-34 degrees along with the bitterness of the wind, collecting books and greeting those who brought books to be donated was well worth the effort. I was particularly delighted to see the dedication of all the NCLC AmeriCorps members and volunteers that came out on this cold and blustery day that helped to greet, sort, and pack books. I was filled with joy because these books would find a new home through Book Harvest that would either go to their Book Babies Program that provides books for children from birth to age five, their Books on Break program that tackles summer learning loss, or their Community Book Bank where families can choose and take home books and keep forever.

At the end of the book drive, a total of 26,038 books were collected and counting. This led me to think about the potential families that would receive these books and the joy that will light these children’s faces. On this I didn’t have to wonder either – these children will have someone to help them read.