Chippewa County Jail Literacy Program—A Holiday Initiative

Warren Bowe
Chapter Advisor
Cardinal Chapter
Chippewa Falls Senior High School, Chippewa Falls, WI

Unfortunately, for many families in our communities, the end-of-year holidays don’t mirror the idealized versions they see celebrated in television advertisements or holiday specials. Instead, families can find themselves separated by distance, conflicting work schedules, illness, or one of many other circumstances; sadly, in too many cases, many children have no contact with their parents during the holidays because of the parents’ incarceration in a local jail.

Book DriveChippewa Falls Senior High Schools‘ Cardinal Chapter of the National English Honor Society (NEHS) in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, has been collecting new children’s books for kids ages 0-10 as a first semester service project for the past ten years. The books we collect are donated to Literacy Volunteers—Chippewa Valley, a local organization that, in turn, uses the books in a program with inmates at the Chippewa County Jail.

Inmates unable to be at home with their children during the holidays select titles from the donated books they think their children would like, and the Literacy Volunteers help the inmates make audio recordings of themselves reading the books aloud. The recordings and books are then given to the children as presents. It is a great program to connect children and parents during a difficult time, and it is a wonderful way to promote literacy in our own community!

We have received many notes from inmates over the years that express heartfelt thanks. In the inmates own words:

Chippewa 3“Thank you all very much. For giving your time and donations so that people such as myself have the means to give a meaningful present to my children even though I am where I am. Word don’t convey my gratitude tward each and every one of you. Thank you for ensuring I be a part of thier Christmas this year. Sinserly, Kevin W.” [sic]

“Thank you guys so much for the books! I really appreciate the meaningful gift. Even though I won’t be home for the holiday my son will still get to recieve a gift from his mommy. Thank you. Nicole K.” [sic]

“I would like to thank you for what you did for us inmates at Chippewa jail. Without people like you, we wouldn’t have much to look forward to, and we would have a lonely X-mas. Again thank you. Sincerely, Thomas M.”

As the school’s NEHS Advisor, I ask each member of our chapter to donate one or more books to this effort and present the children’s book drive to members as a chance for them to make a difference in a child’s life. Who knows what long-reaching effects this generosity could have?

I also ask the students to consider asking their extended family members for monetary donations at their Thanksgiving gatherings and taking the money to purchase books to donate to the collection. I, myself, send an invitation to donate books to colleagues, family members, and friends via email and Facebook. These combined efforts result in our NEHS chapter being able to present between 200 and 275 new children’s books to the Literacy Volunteers each year. This year we blew that number out of the water with a total donation of 528 books! Over the past nine years we have collected more than 2,000 books!

I have been told by the coordinators at Literacy Volunteers that because of the generosity of our NEHS chapter and our school’s extended community, Literacy Volunteers—Chippewa Valley has been able to supplement similar programs in two adjoining counties with books collected by our chapter.

Most NEHS members have a special someone—a relative, teacher, mentor—who promoted a love of reading in their lives; this book drive allows our members to be that “special someone” for young children in our community. More than likely, your community has a similar need. If you have questions about starting your own NEHS literacy connection with a local city or county jail, please contact me at bowewj@chipfalls.org, and I will be happy to offer any assistance I can.

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