Goodwill program lets Fruit Valley kids choose free books

By Susan Parrish, Columbian education reporter



Poverty in Vancouver district elementary schools

  1. Washington, 91.7 percent.
  2. Martin Luther King, 90.6 percent.
  3. Fruit Valley, 89.8 percent.

Goodwill’s Book of My Own program

What: Donates books to low-income children through Clark County schools and nonprofit agencies.

Phone: 503-238-6139.

Wearing a pink Hello Kitty T-shirt, Winter Quenelle, 7, grips a pen and carefully writes her name on the title page of her new book, "Disney's The Jungle Book." Then, she circles the tables in the Fruit Valley Community Learning Center's cafeteria.

The tables are laden with books, and she can pick one more of her own. Decisions, decisions.

Every student in the low-income school had an opportunity to choose two free books to keep Friday, thanks to Goodwill's Book of My Own summer learning book give away. At Fruit Valley, 89.8 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

Goodwill employees brought 549 books for the 240 students. The books that were not chosen were donated to the school's library, said Dale Emanuel of Goodwill Industries of the Columbia Willamette.

Goodwill training participants process and sort the books. Other employees contact principals in lower-income schools to ask if they can donate books for students to take home. Since the program began in 2007, Goodwill has donated more than 12,300 books to low-income schools and other agencies serving children in Clark County.

This is the Goodwill program's inaugural trip to Fruit Valley.

"The kids are thrilled (about) getting books into their hands," said Laurie Shelton, second-grade teacher. "And they're free!"

"I'm looking for books for the summer," said Maria Perez, 10, who had turned over a horse book, "King of the World" to read the back cover.

She said she goes to the school library every week, but her family doesn't get to a Fort Vancouver library branch much in the summer.

"Are there any more 'Percy Jackson' books?" asked Makai Valdez, 11, scanning the tables in the school library.

Sergio Garcia, 9, said he was looking for "a scary book." Wesley Jara, 10, was in search of "funny or action books" as he was holding on to "Johnny Tremain" and "Diary of a Wimpy Kid."

"Ghosts!" said Julian Gates, 7, holding up "Ghosts of the White House" and "Ghosts of the 20th Century."

Rebecca Stever, 10, said she hoped to find "books that make me laugh."

"We mostly have kid books at home," she said, as she carried two chapter books, "The Cricket in Times Square" and the even thicker "The Magician."

"I wish I could build a rescue robot. So awesome!" said Anubis Bicknell-Farrar, 9, who was poring over "Ripley's Believe It or Not: World's Weirdest Gadgets."

As he walked out of the library, his head was buried in his book.

After Shelton's class chose their books, she directed them to sit while the rest of their class finished selecting books. Kids sat on the floor, criss-cross-applesauce style, with their backs against the wall. Some chatted excitedly about their new books. Others quietly started reading.

Clutching their new books, the kids stood.

"Thank you!" they shouted to the Goodwill employees.

Then, following their teacher, students carried "Nancy Drew," "The Jungle Book" and the rest of their books back to their classroom, where they settled in for some reading before the final bell of the day.

Share program

The Share backpack program provides 93 students with food packages each Friday to feed kids through the weekend and holidays.

"We all know that our middle class is barely making it," said Staci Boehlke, the school's Family-Community Resource Center coordinator for the past 10 years. She works with families and distributes the backpacks. "Imagine how it is for the lower-income families."

Once this year, Share has provided a book for every student who receives a food backpack, Boehlke said. But a free book isn't usually something that comes the way of the Fruit Valley students.

"This is the way our kids travel," she said. "They escape in a book. Find themselves on an island (through a book)."

As she walked back to her classroom, Winter showed off the result of her search: Her second book, "Arthur's Eyes," which, as she excitedly explained, is a story about a third-grade aardvark who wears glasses and loves reading, like many kids at Fruit Valley.