Since launching Go Ask Mom in January 2010, every single Friday, I've featured family-friendly outings. With posts marked "review" or "destination," I've written about everything from new playgrounds to museum exhibits to fantastic spots to get a cupcake or an ice cream cone.
Today, I'm adding a new piece to these Friday features. "Kid Volunteers" will feature volunteer opportunities for kids across the region. I've covered family-friendly volunteer opportunities sporadically since 2010. I hope to write about them much more regularly, in part, because readers are asking for it. But, also, because I think that it's important for volunteerism to be a big part of anybody's life.
Many of us have a lot to give - money, time, skills and items we no longer need. And, what I've learned as I've volunteered with my own kids, it really doesn't take much to make a big difference in somebody's life.
Case in point: Book Harvest, the amazing Durham-based organization that distributes children's books to kids who need them. I featured the founder, Ginger Young, late last year. Young tells me that research shows that for every book a child owns, their future outcomes get brighter.
"We have a portfolio of four programs that provide books and literacy support to children starting at birth and spanning all the way through high school," Young told me. "Each program is different, but they share a core belief in the power of books to transform children's lives. When children grow up in book-rich homes, they are more likely to thrive in school and in life, with vibrant imaginations and a deep well of empathy. And those are the kinds of kids who will grow up to be engaged, curious and thoughtful adults."
I knew that my kids had plenty of books on their shelves that they had outgrown. I also was sure plenty of our neighbors had some as well. So, using the tips on Book Harvest's website, my kids and I ran a week-long children's book drive on our street.
Here's what we did:
1. We read information on Book Harvest's website so we understood the need and could talk about it with neighbors as we asked for books.
2. We printed a sign from Book Harvest's website to put on a book collection bin, which we placed on our back porch.
3. The kids walked up and down our quiet street, asking families with children to donate any books they had. They took donations or they let neighbors know about the bin on our back porch - and the deadline for filling it up.
4. We looked through our own shelves for books we were ready to part with.
5. And we checked the shelves of thrift stores, where we picked up gently used children's books for as little as 25 cents each.
In less than a week, we had about 70 books to donate to Book Harvest. We delivered the books to Book Harvest's annual Dream Big Book Drive on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, when we also helped other volunteers sort through the thousands of books collected that day.
But the group doesn't only accept donations on MLK Day. To keep up with a demand of 2,000 books per week, the group accepts donations all year.
Across Durham and Orange counties, Book Harvest has donations sites. Volunteers also can donate books at Book Harvest's headquarters, 2501 University Dr., Durham. It's open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., weekdays. If you can't get there during business hours, there's a donation bin by the front door for after-hours donations.
And, on April 29, Book Harvest and Durham County Library will host a special event from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., at Northgate Mall. They'll be collecting book donations and offering a variety of crafts and activities. Kids also can take home some books.
I checked in with Daniele Berman, Book Harvest's community partnership manager, to get some more tips for families or groups interested in holding their own book drive. Here's what she told me:
- Know the need. They'll accept any gently used book for babies to high school students, but popular titles such as "Diary of a Wimpy Kid," are in high demand. The group also has a particular need for board books for babies; Spanish language or bilingual books in English and Spanish; and books with diverse characters and by diverse authors. "We try to make sure that we're providing books to kids where they can see themselves in the books," Berman tells me.
- Build a book drive that works for you. There are lots of different ways to run a book drive, Berman said. Some groups send out an email to the neighborhood list serve and simply put a bin on the front porch. Others send a notice to neighbors and others that they'll be collecting on a specific day. Some walk around with a little red wagon to collect books that people might have. Some head out to thrift stores and encourage their kids to pick out books they'd like to read to donate. "Generally, people collect more books than they expect to," Berman said.
- Focus your efforts on collecting board books to young adults books. Berman said Book Harvest gets a lot of donations of adult books, but, because of potential content matter, they don't distribute them to teenagers. "High schoolers can read most anything, but we don’t want to give them 50 Shades of Grey," Berman said. Instead, they donate those books to other groups that work with adults. The group also doesn't distribute books with religious content. Instead, they donate any books they receive to local churches and religious groups, who need them.
- Donate gently used books. Make sure the books that you donate aren't moldy or missing pages or feature the scribbles of a toddler on every page.
Book Harvest also offers twice monthly open volunteer book sort opportunities for all ages. They happen from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the second Saturday and fourth Tuesday of each month. The nonprofit's calendar has the dates.
Volunteers can drop in at any time during that three-hour window to help out. And they can stay for all three hours or just an hour. Berman said lots of families come, especially on Saturdays, to help out. Kids under 16 must be accompanied by an adult, but they and their adults are encouraged to help out.
"Anybody is welcome to come," Berman said. "You don't have to be trained. There's no orientation."