Photo: Pictured above, Will Mackey with The Chamber, Gadsden and Etowah County and Kiwanis Club member reads “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.” The Gadsden Kiwanis Club is partnering with Jillian Reeves at the Gadsden Public Library Children’s Department to provide virtual book readings to children in the Etowah County area during COVID-19. (Photo courtesy of Jillian Reeves)
By Emma Kirkemier, Staff Correspondent
The Gadsden Public Library Children’s Department has partnered with the Gadsden Kiwanis Club to present a series of virtual children’s story times.
This project began Friday, July 17, when Will Mackey, Kiwanis Club satellite member and Gadsden/Etowah County Chamber of Commerce program director, read “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” over Facebook live.
The GPL Children’s Department Facebook, at www.facebook.com/gplkids, will be the site of the weekly readings with Kiwanis Club members, with new installments posted or going live at 10 a.m. on Friday mornings.
“One of the initiatives of the Kiwanis Club of Gadsden is literacy, and so their members are eager to reach out and benefit the community,” said GPL Children’s Director Jillian Reeves. “But with coronavirus and our state mandates in place, it’s made it difficult for them to complete service projects.”
Reeves explained that community service is a staple for the GPL as well as the Kiwanis Club, and coronavirus restrictions have caused the library to miss out on collaborating with its community.
For health and safety reasons, Kiwanis Club members may choose to record their reading in the library, which is currently closed to the public, or they may record themselves reading in their own homes and send a video to Reeves.
“We’re just really excited to partner with someone in the community, especially a great organization like Kiwanis,” she said.
The new reading program is a supplement to “Story Time with Mrs. Jill,” in which Reeves hosts her own virtual reading, complete with library announcements and even nursery rhymes. Reeves said she began her story times back in March, around when local schools moved to online instruction, and has been posting them on the children’s department Facebook frequently since.
Reeves explained that her virtual readings replicate the format of the library’s in-person story times.
“Before I ever read the story, we sing lots of songs; we engage in conversation,” she said. “My online format actually mirrors my in-person format, and I did it that way because that’s what the kids are used to. They like repetition. I’m excited every time a parent comments, ‘Oh, my kids watch your story before naptime,’ and it’s why I keep doing it, because people really engage in it.”
Reeves said she works to keep the department Facebook page active. She posts not only readings, but announcements, educational activities for children and information about public health and safety.
However, she tries to provide only enough interactive material to be digestible to kids.
“You want to keep them engaged, but you don’t want to overwhelm them and burn them out,” Reeves said.
Reeves aims to provide programming that is interactive, educational and useful to parents. She expressed her excitement about the Kiwanis Club guest reading program.
Jennifer Jackson, current Gadsden Kiwanis Club satellite membership committee chair and former Gadsden Kiwanis Club president, was responsible for the creation of the joint reading project.
Jackson got the idea from a Kiwanis international newsletter featuring a club in Germany with a similar reading program.
“I thought, ‘Well that’s something that we can do,’” Jackson said. “That’s one thing that we’ve been struggling with is finding ways to serve and protect members and those that we’re serving.”
Jackson was already aware of Reeves’ virtual reading program and decided that partnering with the library was a better opportunity than trying to “reinvent something that’s already in existence.” She reached out to the GPL and collaborated with Reeves to extend an invitation to Kiwanis satellite members to participate in the virtual readings.
Jackson was a participant in the program as the second guest reader. To view her July 24 reading, visit the children’s department Facebook page.
Mackey, the program’s inaugural guest reader, expressed his enthusiasm for the project and for the partnership with the library.
“Being involved in the community is important and giving back by volunteering is something I really enjoy doing throughout the year, so I was definitely excited to get involved in something new like this,” Mackey said.
Reeves explained that the length of the program depends entirely on interest from Kiwanis Club members.
“It’s their service project, so it depends really on how many members decide that they want to participate,” she said.
While the longevity of the series is yet to be determined, Mackey said he “will definitely be doing it again if my help is needed,” a great example of the enthusiasm from participants in the project so far.
Jackson encouraged community members to not only interact with the online readings, but to consider membership in the Kiwanis Club and to support the club’s annual pancake day, held in February. She said the money raised at pancake day is “put back into the Etowah County community” in support of scholarships and nonprofits.
Jackson said Kiwanis Club members serve the Gadsden/Etowah community through fundraising and numerous volunteer projects like the virtual reading program. For more information about the Gadsden Kiwanis Club, visit https://www.gadsdenkiwanis.org/.