At Dwolla, we think it’s important to support the next generation of inventors, creators and believers, which is why we support organizations like Pi515, dsmHack and Iowa Safe Schools. In this spirit, I took advantage of Dwolla’s Volunteer Time Off program to help out the Foreshadow Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit founded earlier this year that works to improve access to books in rural schools. 

On May 10, Foreshadow held its first book fair at Bright Elementary in Hillsboro, Ohio. The school serves a rural community outside Cincinnati, an area hit hard by the opioid crisis, where 72% of students are eligible for free or reduced price lunches.

The other volunteers and I arrived at Bright around 7:45 a.m. to set up the book fair on their cafeteria stage. Teachers had signed up for half-hour time slots for their classes, and we had a full day planned! We unloaded around 800 books sorted by reading level and set things up on tables provided by the school. The idea was that kids could select any book they wanted while making it easy for them to find something appropriate to their reading level.

Our first curveball came as we were setting up. The sixth grade classes were going on a field trip, meaning they needed to come in and select books before the first time slot was scheduled. Luckily, the books were already sorted, so we unloaded the higher reading levels first and let the sixth graders come through and select their books.

book fair kids with books

After that, things settled into a regular cadence. Classes would come in, one of our volunteers would explain how things work, the kids would go through the books looking for something that looked fun and then they’d wait nearby for their classmates to finish up. Some of the students took longer than others—one kindergartner with particular tastes took an hour and a half!

Teachers and volunteers helped the students find appropriate books. We quickly learned from their teachers that a helpful trick for the younger kids was to ask them to try to read the first page of the book. Some had particular tastes, looking for books featuring animals, farming or even icons like John Wayne or authors like Stephen King (sadly, we were unable to fulfill those last two requests). Others noticed the camera set up for a time lapse, so I showed them how their pictures showed up automatically and encouraged them to make faces and funny poses while they browsed for books.

Children’s classics familiar to older readers (like me) like Charlotte’s Web and Harry Potter remained popular, as were newer series like Lauren Tarshis’ I Survived books and guides to Minecraft.

Since it was the first Foreshadow book fair, some of the volunteers were nervous the kids would be “too cool” for a free book. We needn’t have worried—the kids were super excited, causing one to exclaim, “This is like the library, but better!” Teachers told us at the end of the day that all their students wanted to do all day was read to each other.

book fair thank you notes

The day was exhausting, but incredibly fulfilling. It was obvious that the kids and teachers really appreciated us being there. Several teachers and administrators pointed out that for many of the kids, the book they took home might be the only book they get this year—or even the only children’s book in their household. In total, the kids took home almost 375 books!

Dwolla is a digital company, and it would be easy for us to dismiss books as outdated, old thinking. Not so. Innovation starts with ideas and ideas are found in books. It’s unlikely that the Foreshadow Foundation Book Fair made bibliophiles out of every student, but if even one took the initial step towards a lifelong love of books, it will have been well worth it. Studies show that simply having books in a house has a positive effect on a child’s education, with 500-book homes improving a child’s education levels by more than three years. I’m really proud that I was able to spread the power of books. 

With this year’s book fair a success, the Foreshadow Foundation will now start organizing and fundraising for the next school year. If you’d like to support their efforts, like their Facebook page, follow them on Instagram, and donate now

Photos courtesy of the Foreshadow Foundation, taken by the author.

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