Rotary Clubs in Anchorage Make a Big Impact in the Schools

Eight years ago, the Anchorage International Rotary Club established a reading program at North Star Elementary School. Rotarians were assigned to a class room and asked to go to the school for half-hour each week to read to the children at a mutually convenient time. They wanted to spark an interest in books while providing a service to the students. Former Rotarian, Robin Hartlieb, fell in love with this program and took the lead, encouraging many members to become involved that first year. One Rotarian, Lloyd Lindsey kept finding excuses not to participate asking why children would want an “old bald-headed guy” to read stories to them. After finally being shamed into making some visits, he became hooked.

The next year, Lloyd became the champion for the program explaining that time with the children gave him much more than he gave them. The high point of his week became his reading time and when he arrived at school children would run to him with welcoming outstretched arms. He also introduced the concept of having the older children practice reading to Rotarians. This improved their skills and resulted in increased interested in reading. Many students asked their parents for books so that they could bring them to school to read to Rotarians.

Bartlett high teacher, Diana Hedstrom, and student, Sydney La Montagne, were honored in October 2011 by East Anchorage Rotarian Bill Miernyk.

Through Lloyd’s encouragement many more Rotarians became involved in the program, and some even included their spouses and friends as readers. In recognition of Lloyd’s work and the enthusiasm that he brought to the school and students, the principal arranged designated room at the school to be set up as a reading room and named it “The Lloyd Lindsey Reading Room” in a formal ceremony.

The Read-to-Me program is one of the very best service projects ever undertaken by the Anchorage International Rotary Club. Over the years, there has been ebb and flow in participation, but Greg O’Keefe has worked to revitalize it again. The activity costs little, but the rewards are enormous. All it takes is “a little bit of time.”

South Anchorage Rotary started the Dictionary Project in 2007 and delivered dictionaries to all the third graders in the Anchorage School District that year. They chose the “Students Dictionary” that includes over 150 pages of supplemental information in the back including the Constitution of the U.S., the Declaration of Independence, brief biographies of all U. S. presidents, world maps, and information about all 50 states, countries of the world and the planets in our solar system. It ends with the longest word in the English language with 1909 letters.

Over the last several years, South Anchorage Rotary has reached out to other clubs to help us deliver the dictionaries and share in the enjoyment of providing kids with their own book. The cost of the project runs about $8,000 per year and other clubs have also made donations to help fund the project. Many of children who received dictionaries come from homes where English is a second language and may not have access to a lot of resources. Rotary members say seeing the joy on the children’s faces when they learn the book is theirs to keep makes the project worthwhile.

South Anchorage Rotary has also piggy backed on Anchorage International Rotary club’s idea of reading in schools. They have started a program in two South Anchorage elementary schools, Chinook and Gladys Wood in which students at each school read to them for one hour a week. The club also provides food for family after school events; sponsored a clothing drive for winter gear; collected turkeys for Turkey Bingo Night and donated toys to the schools for the holidays. They learned that last year, one of these toys went to a child who was living in a car with family, and it was the only gift the child received for Christmas.

Many students either do not qualify for food assistance or their parents are to proud to ask for help. These kids are routinely sent to the nurse’s office since they are hungry and not able to concentrate or are disruptive in class. South Anchorage Rotary recognizes this need and also provides snacks for the nurse’s office.

East Anchorage Rotary sponsors monthly teacher and student recognition awards for their two partner schools, Bartlett and East high schools. Diana Hedstrom and Sydney La Montagne, both from Bartlett High School were honored in October 2011 as Teacher and Student of the Month, respectively.