Young writers get published with the help of Rotary

Two winning story writers in St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands, proudly receive their autographed copies of “The Butterfly StoryBook 2014."
Diana White, Rotary E-Club of the Caribbean
A volunteer reads to children during one of the mobile library’s stops.
Mandi Laurent, Rotary Club of Ellensburg Morning

In Jamaica, 11-year-old Jordan Allwood reads his classmates a story about a lonely puppy who finds a new family.

The puppy grows into a big dog, enjoys walks along the beach, and survives a frightening autumn day when he is caught in a trap before being rescued by his family. Jordan's story is one of hundreds that were written by children ages 7-11 for a writing contest organized by the Rotary E-Club of the Caribbean 7020 and supported by clubs in 10 Caribbean nations.

The best stories, including Jordan's, were published in "The Butterfly StoryBook," produced by the club and sold through Rotary members and others are encouraged to donate copies to school libraries. Proceeds are used to support other literacy efforts.

In July, Rotary International and the International Reading Association (IRA) selected the Butterfly StoryBook project and a summer mobile library project run by the Rotary Club of Ellensburg Morning, Washington, USA, to receive two $2,500 awards from the Pearson Foundation. The awards recognize projects in which Rotary clubs and local IRA-affiliated reading councils collaborate to strengthen literacy in local and international communities. Rotary and the IRA have been project partners since 2002.

Diana White, a past district governor and member of the Rotary E-Club of the Caribbean 7020, says she got the idea for the story contest after a visit to the headquarters of Rotary International in Britain and Ireland (RIBI), which holds a number of well-publicized youth contests every year. White said a project that involved drafting rules and promoting a contest was perfect for the e-club. It turned to clubs throughout the district to solicit entries from local schools.

In 2013, the contest's first year, 200 children contributed stories. This year, 300 young writers took part. Each club selects three local winners, who receive certificates. Then a panel of judges from the e-club chooses 10 stories from among all of those to include in "The Butterfly StoryBook." Each of those young authors receives $50 in books.

"It's been a great shot in the arm for our club, which only just chartered last year," says White. "We tried to think of things we could do specifically that didn't require everyone getting together in one place. This project has been more successful than we could have imagined and has been a great source of pride for our members."

This year, the e-club provided a free copy of the e-book to the Jamaica Reading Association, an IRA-affiliated council, which used it in its annual Reading Week in April. The association signed an agreement with the club to further promote the contest throughout the Caribbean. Rotary clubs in the U.S. Virgin Islands purchased 500 copies for the Summer Reading Challenge held there. Clubs have also purchased copies to donate to schools in Canada, Ethiopia, Haiti, India, and the United Kingdom.

The contest rules required each story to have a Caribbean theme, because the e-club wanted to share the culture of the region while encouraging creative writing. University students in Haiti translated the stories into French and Haitian Creole free of charge. The books are also available in English and will soon be available in Spanish.

"I'm really excited how this has all turned out," says White. "We still have a long way we can go with this project. There's no limit how far these books can be promoted through the Internet."

The Rotary Club of Ellensburg Morning and the IRA council based at Central Washington University collaborated on the second project to receive a Pearson Foundation award. Mandi Laurent, a member of the council, got the idea for a bookmobile, or mobile library, after attending a conference on summer reading loss.

Volunteers from the Rotary club, the IRA council, the local Rotaract club, and the Ellensburg Education Foundation solicit books from a variety of sources, sort them by grade level, and accompany the bookmobile, a converted delivery truck, to its stops in low-income neighborhoods every Tuesday in July. This year, the education foundation raised $10,000 to purchase the truck it had been renting.

"We get a lot of smiles," says Laurent, who became a member of the Rotary club as a result of the project. "The children in these communities tend to be underserved, and many of them have very few books in their homes."

Many of the volunteers are educators, and they teach as they read books to the children. Laurent says she's also seen older children reading to their younger siblings.

"This past week, I went along with a third-grade teacher, and she said afterward how glad she was that she took part," Laurent says. "It's an eye-opening experience every time you go.

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