book program

Meggan Judd-Cant, co-chairwoman of the Clinton REACH a Child project (left), Governor-Elect of the Illinois-Eastern Iowa Kiwanis District John Moreland and Clinton Kiwanis President Rita Zeeryp ask the public to donate books for the REACH a Child program.

Samantha Pidde/Clinton Herald
Herald Staff Writer

The Clinton Kiwanis Club will be collecting books to reach children affected by traumatic events.

The “REACH (Reading Enjoyment Affects Childhood Happiness) a Child” project aims to put smiles on the faces of children dealing with crisis across America through the power of books. REACH a Child was founded by Paul and Chris Gilbertson in 2007 as a Wisconsin non-profit organization.

The program consists of filling backpacks with collected books for children. These backpacks are then given to first responders, such as police officers and firefighters. When they encounter a child during a domestic disturbance, a fire, car accident, or other traumatic event, they can let the child pick out a book to read.

“The children that are in these traumatic situations will be distracted by being able to look through this backpack, pick out the book they want and then they can keep this book,” Meggan Judd-Cant, co-chairwoman of the Clinton REACH a Child project, said. “So it helps with literacy. It helps distract them in a traumatic time and it allows anybody in the vicinity to participate, whether they give used books or new books.”

Governor-Elect of the Illinois-Eastern Iowa Kiwanis District John Moreland was looking for a project that the whole district could really sink its teeth into. He attended training for his new position and listened to a presentation by Paul Gilbertson on REACH a Child. Moreland said while there were many worthy programs being discussed, he was inspired by Gilbertson’s presentation.

The mission of the Kiwanis Club is to “serve the children of the world, one community at a time.” Moreland felt this program was a great way to serve this mission. He liked the idea of giving first responders a way to distract children from what is going on at the scene of something traumatic like a car accident, fire, domestic abuse or physical abuse.

“What better way to do that than have a child pick out a book from a backpack and have him go sit somewhere and put their mind on reading a book than what’s going on in front of them,” Moreland said.

There are 247 Kiwanis Clubs in the Illinois-Eastern Iowa Kiwanis District. Moreland hopes to get them all involved in this project and is working with different law enforcement agencies and local Kiwanis Clubs on the idea. When Rita Zeeryp, president of Clinton Kiwanis, heard about the project, she decided to make it priority project No. 1 for the Clinton club. Moreland is also working to get the Fulton, Ill., and Camanche Kiwanis clubs involved.

YWCA Crisis Services Director Ronelle Clark is excited about having this program in the community. She said a lot of times when people are affected by domestic or sexual abuse or homelessness, the children have to leave everything behind, including their toys, books, blankets and other personal items.

“A lot of times, they're coming in with nothing,” Clark said.

Clark is happy that Kiwanis is involved in this program and is looking forward to building a partnership with the club. She thought these books would be a great comfort item for the children.

“They would be brand new things to give to a child who have to leave everything behind,” Clark said. “It will give them something tangible that they can call their own.”

Clinton Kiwanis will be officially kicking off the program with a collection day on April 21. Each backpack holds 10 to 15 children’s books and these backpacks will be provided to area law enforcement agencies, as well as the YWCA Crisis Services and the Gateway Area Chapter of the American Red Cross. Some books have already been donated by Kiwanis Club members and other members of the community. Clausen has offered space to store the books.

Moreland has also been collaborating with the Gateway Area Police Administrators, which consists of the Camanche, Clinton, DeWitt and Fulton police chiefs and the Clinton County sheriff. According to an impact statement from Clinton Police Chief Brian Guy, GAPA understands the “value of providing an educational outlet, and sometimes a welcome distraction, to children involved in crisis situations such as fires, collisions and other tragic events.”

People are encouraged to participate in the program by donating books. Judd-Cant said this is a way to comfort a child and promote literacy.

“It is a project that could go on forever,” Moreland said.

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