On the rainy morning of Alabama’s SEC Championship game Saturday, Honors Action, a program within the UA Honors College, organized a service project behind Nott Hall. As part of the Honors College Assembly, the association is one of several groups that focuses on community service.
The Literacy Council of West Alabama partnered with the Honors College to paint old newsstands donated by The Tuscaloosa News. These new “take one, leave one” book stands became part of the effort to encourage reading from a young age.
“We originally did two [book stands] as a partnership with First Friends, and then the Literacy Council for West Alabama suddenly wanted two more, so we’re giving it a go,” said Ben Rogers, a junior majoring in chemistry and student director of civic engagement for the Honors College Assembly. “Any time that you can encourage children to read and to get into the great habit of reading, that’s a good effort.”
The Literacy Council of West Alabama estimates one in four Alabamians is functionally illiterate, which means they lack the basic skills for reading, writing and mathematics. The organization also cites the U.S. Department of Education in saying 60 percent of American children are reading below the level of proficiency.
One of the four pillars of the Honors College is civic engagement, asking students to give back to their community while they are still in school. With more than five service organizations, Honors College students are fulfilling that mission in the West Alabama area.
“There’s tons of stuff in the Honors College I like getting involved in,” said Thomas Mozingo, a sophomore majoring in mechanical engineering. “There’s always something that’s going on. I find it pretty cool that students are able to give back to a community that’s so welcoming to the students of the University. … We look for any way that we can give back to them for the hospitality they’ve provided.”
The two completed libraries were bright blue with clouds and wind streaks painted in cheerful designs on all four sides. The Literacy Council gave students the creative freedom to choose the colors and patterns for the recycled newsstands. The volunteers tried to make the designs as appealing as possible to young school children who may be hesitant to begin reading.
“I think literacy is something that be improved on throughout the country, and I think this [project] is something that will be beneficial to [the children],”said Hannah Deese, a sophomore majoring in public health. “My mom is an educator. … I love reading. I think it’s great to foster that love for reading as a child. It helps with vocabulary, imagination. It’s just something people should love to do.”
The Honors College provides Honors Action with the funds to support service projects like this one. The books for the converted newsstands will be provided by the Literacy Council for West Alabama and will be maintained by a library honor system.
Children may take a book, leave a book or donate a book to the library as they use it. This exchange of personally beloved stories is thought to fuel a love for reading in community. Then the children who are self-motivated to read will be able to take advantage of this free service and develop their literacy skills.
“I love the idea of community service, giving back to those who aren’t as fortunate as you or giving to causes you think are important,” Deese said. “You are able to enjoy your community more and know that you had a part in what your community has become.”
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