With bookcases built and personalized and a starter set of "gently used" children's books safely tucked inside, it was now time to present them to the children and their parents. This called for a celebration. Most of all we were happy for the children. But we were also happy for ourselves and for the future of our community. We wanted this to be a special celebration and we called it our First Awards Ceremony. There were details to be worked out and our committee got back together for our second meeting at City Hall.
By consensus, we came up with the best time; a Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. when most people are free to attend. A date three weeks later for the ceremony would give us ample time to take care of the details. We decided to hold it in Fellowship Hall of the Cornerstone Bible Church, where the bookcases had been constructed and the books were stored. We were limited in the number of people we could invite because of space, so we invited children and parents, special guests, our committee, craftsmen, book sorters, spouses, and members of the media. We had invitations printed and mailed to those we did not see on a regular basis.
Chief Aragon worked out the official program. Jim Davidson served as emcee, Mayor Tab Townsell gave the welcome, Chief Aragon gave a Criminal Justice perspective, and Amanda Moore was the Keynote Speaker. Amanda is the Director of the Bailey Library at Hendrix College in Conway and a valuable member of our committee. Following her presentation about the importance of reading, books and literacy, Jim Davidson presented the bookcases to the children. After refreshments were served and a period of visiting, children and their parents were able to take their new bookcases and books home.
There were a number of people who helped with the project who went above and beyond the call of duty. A special word of thanks was given to Lynnette Collums, who lives in a neighboring community, who gave a giant Bible Story Book to each child; to Wal-Mart who provided bookends for each bookcase; to Nabholz Construction Company who provided student dictionaries; Ramona Aragon who provided a personalized bookmark; and Alan Kizer, owner/operator of Chick-fil-A, who gave a copy of Truett Cathy's book "It's Better to Build Boys Than Mend Men" for each bookcase.
Following the program, punch and home-made cookies were served, provided by committee member Nina Russ and Viola Davidson, wife of chairman Jim Davidson. Floral decorations were also provided by Ramona Aragon. We were all deeply saddened a few weeks later when Nina Russ passed away. We have dedicated our Second Awards Ceremony to honor the memory of Nina because she was a special lady and friend to all of us. Her husband, retired State Senator Stanley Russ has since joined our committee, to carry on the work she began.
As already stated, one of the reasons our "Bookcase for Every Child" project has been so successful is because of the excellent coverage the media has given us. On behalf of our committee, Bill Hegeman wrote an article to our community at large, to specifically thank many of our people for their help and support. The day following our First Awards Ceremony there was a front page story in the Log Cabin Democrat, written by Jeremy Glover, with a photograph of a child with his books and personalized bookcase.
Lt. Danny Moody, Public Information Officer for the Conway Police Department, invited television stations from Little Rock to give us coverage. Both the CBS and NBC affiliates came, interviewed Chairman Davidson, and gave a fine report on both the 6 o'clock and 10 o'clock news
. Our local cable Channel 81 also videotaped the entire ceremony and aired it twice a couple of weeks later.
When we received feedback from our community, and especially from those who were present, it confirmed that a great time was had by all. It was so rewarding to see parents and children loading bookcases into their cars and trucks. The looks on their faces was priceless. The Conway Housing Authority brought a bus to provide transportation for some of their residents and to carry bookcases back to children who could not be present. Our next awards ceremony will be held at the Faulkner County Library that can accommodate up to 1000 people and we will invite members of the general public. This will be an annual affair and we plan to invite people of national prominence in future years, who will share a message of literacy and hope to inspire us all. A seed has been planted and we hope many others across our great country will water and fertilize it.