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The prognosis looks good for an upcoming donation of books that may be just the right kind of medicine to treat a lingering side effect of childhood poverty.

Local residents recently teamed up with the Dickinson College campus community to collect about 371 children’s books, which will be donated this Wednesday to the Sadler Health Center in Carlisle.

Student leaders involved with the Clarke Forum for Contemporary Issues organized the multi-week book drive as part of Reach Out and Read, a nationwide effort to promote childhood literacy through doctors and nurses who provide primary care to needy children.

When the students first launched this outreach, they were hoping to fill at least one cardboard box with books. They were pleasantly surprised when the drive exceeded expectations, forcing them to find at least four more boxes to fill with books.

“We got a really good response,” said student supervisor Nick Botti, a senior majoring in math and economics. “There is just an incredible variety of books. I don’t think we got two of the same.”

The collection includes picture books for toddlers, books for elementary school students and chapter books for developing readers up through the middle school level. The donation will be put to good use by Sadler, which is a local host site for Reach Out and Read.

Not only does this effort encourage medical staff to send books home with needy children, but it also provides resources for parents and guardians to gain insight on the importance of reading to children from an early age, as well as advice on how to obtain age-appropriate reading material, Botti said.

“It brings lessons from the medical clinic into the home,” said Sam Weisman, a sophomore majoring in international studies. He is a student project manager with the Clarke Forum.

A campus organization since 1994, the forum sponsors events every semester that bring to Dickinson College authors, scholars, professionals and artists who share their work on pressing contemporary issues, Executive Director Amy Farrell said. The book drive was organized as a focal point around the Feb. 25 visit by Dr. Perri Klass, national medical director for Reach Out and Read.

Klass is part of a growing movement among pediatricians and family practitioners to treat childhood poverty as a disease and not just an economic demographic, Farrell said. “Poverty is making children sick and hurts them not just at that moment but has long standing effects that are really hard to mitigate in the long run.”

Earlier in the year, student leaders with the forum were meeting to discuss ideas for upcoming events when Botti shared with the group a New York Times article he read on Klass and her views on poverty as a childhood disease.

“She was doing a lot of great work in this area,” Botti said. He added the article touched on the shift of thinking underway in the medical community and how the health effects of poverty on children was just being explored at a deeper level.

As the leaders talked, they decided they wanted to go beyond just inviting a speaker to talk about a societal issue. “We asked ‘What could we do to magnify the effect of her visit?” Botti recalled. “What could we do to make it even stronger?”

The student leaders wanted to build on the fact that forum events are open to the public and tend to draw not only Dickinson College students but also Carlisle area residents, said Aleksandra Syniec, a sophomore majoring in history and sociology. The solution was to organize the book drive around the forum event where Klass was the main speaker.

Students prepared and distributed a news release to the general public and publicized the book drive on campus through flyers, posters and the college website, said Syniec, a student project manager for the forum.

Book drop off locations were established at the Clarke Forum office, the Holland Union Building and Whistlestop Bookshop, whose owner Jeff Wood offered a 10 percent discount on books donated to the effort.

As students worked to gauge support of the drive on campus, they learned that some professors have a connection with the Sadler Health Center and who already participated in Reach Out and Read, Weisman said.

“We realized here in our community we had children who did not have a lot of access to reading materials,” Botti said. “We thought the book drive would be a great opportunity to deliver a new spin. That was definitely the exciting part about it. We would make a difference immediately in our community.”

Email Joseph Cress at jcress@cumberlink.com 

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News Reporter

History and education reporter for The Sentinel.

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