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- Jim Davidson

With your master craftsman on board and a climate-controlled place secured to build your bookcases, it's time to get started. It should be noted in the beginning that building the bookcases and conducting a book drive can take place at the same time. This is because these two phases require a different group of volunteers.

A good craftsman, who is also a leader, is perhaps the most important person in this entire "Bookcase for Every Child" project. You don't have a bookcase project until you have the craftsmen to build them. In our community we were fortunate to secure the help of Mickey Cox, a retired utility executive, who is also a fantastic craftsman.

Here is a second important side note: It's been said that we should never get the cart before the horse. A "Bookcase for Every Child" project does not require a lot of money but it does require some. Here in Conway we decided to build 50 bookcases at a time and the cost for the first 50 was around $2250, including the cost of the 'jigs' and other start-up costs. We estimate the second 50 will only cost around $1700. About half of this amount was raised from the sale of the book "Learning, Earning & Giving Back" and the other half as donations from banks, organizations and individuals. This is covered in detail in the "Project Funding" section but you should not start your project until money has been raised to pay for the number you build. One of the things we want to teach these young children is fiscal responsibility and we must all be good stewards and good role models.
To save money on construction costs, Mickey came up with the idea of using oak plywood to build the bookcases and to use solid oak to face the raw edges, to give the appearance of solid oak. The finished result was very attractive, but yet inexpensive. He also designed a number of "jigs" to create an assembly-line concept so that while the glue was drying on parts of one bookcase, he and the other craftsmen could be working on other bookcases. This helped to speed up the process and the finished products are just beautiful.

Depending on how many bookcases your committee decides to build at a time, you will need several other craftsmen to help. Usually local craftsmen know each other, and perhaps some members of your committee will know still others. There may even be a woodworking club in your community. And don't hesitate to ask people in the wood department of your local lumber store to recommend people they know. We have six craftsmen here in Conway who wanted to help, and they were able to build the 50 quality, oak bookcases comfortably in only a few weeks.

We have included construction details here so your craftsmen volunteers can see exactly how to build the bookcases; no point in reinventing the wheel. Bookcase plans were drawn by our architect committee member Ken Ingram and Mike Gober and Joe Ward let us use their cabinet shops to cut out the various parts. We are also including cutting instructions (we used a computer layout program to minimize waste) and photos of each building step, along with how the "jigs" can be built.

Once the bookcases are finished, your craftsmen will need a way to stain and varnish them so they will look very professional. We found help in the person of David Bailey, a local painting contractor who let us use his spray equipment and also buy the stain and varnish at his costs, which saved a considerable amount of money.

After the stain and varnish has dried, it will be time to apply the personalized name plates which is a very important factor in the success of the project. It is very special for a young child in a low-income family, to have his or her own bookcase with their name on it. These name plates can be produced out of brass by a local trophy company. The size we used was 3/4" X 6." The copy simply read "Sarah Frank's Personal Library," personalized for each child. Perhaps a member of your committee, rather than a craftsman, could handle this.

Another important consideration is how many bookcases you wish to build at the same time. Fifty was a good number for us and we made the decision to build this number each year. You can start small and grow. The size of your community and the spirit of volunteerism will be an important factor, of course. But the level of need -- that is, how many young children need your help -- should also influence your decision.

We were blessed here in Conway because our committee includes Phyliss Fry, Executive Director of the Community Action Program forCentral Arkansas, which includes the Head Start program, and Mary Boyd, Executive Director of the Conway Housing Authority. Each of these women gave us 25 names of young children who would greatly benefit from our efforts. Because of these key members, we were able to develop a plan, which included the bookcases with books, and a program for volunteers to read to these children each week.

We will discuss this is more detail in the "Reading To Children" phase of our project but without this last step, much of our potential for helping these children would have been lost. With the right people in your community involved as volunteers, you will be building a solid foundation for the future.