During the month of March, several American Legion family members of Post 73 in Enterprise, Ala., spent their Thursday afternoons at the local YMCA. While there, they sat one-on-one with youth ages 8 to 12 to hear recaps on books that they read and to help them write book reports. It was all part of Post 73’s Bucks for Books program.
The program encouraged youth in the YMCA’s afterschool program to read up to four books a week that were age-appropriate and to complete an oral and written report with help from a Post 73 volunteer (Legion, Auxiliary or Legion Rider member). The children were awarded $2 per book, a special completion certificate and an ice cream social on April 6 where Legion, Auxiliary and Legion Riders from the post were all in attendance.
“I believe this is one of the most worthwhile programs that we have tried,” said Iris Keen, a Unit 73 member. “It’s about teaching these kids that they can always read and learn and explore through reading. That’s our goal … to help the kids get excited about reading.”
The concept for the Bucks for Books program was shared by Post 73 member Elaine Roberts, who had been invovled with the same program with another organization. Post 73 chose to launch the four-week program with the YMCA in March with an April celebration event since April is the Legion’s Children & Youth Month and the Month of the Military Child – several youth in the YMCA’s afterschool program are military children. When post members went to the YMCA to introduce the program to the children, those interested were required to have parents sign a consent form since the volunteers would be working one-on-one with them.
YMCA After School Camp and Summer Camp Director Felicia Holley said every Thursday the children were excited to see the Legion family members, which “meant a lot for me to hear because you don’t always see kids getting into reading, especially after they have been in school all day. It was good to see them excited about something educational, and it taught them responsibility – they had to work for the ($2).”
Buddy Keen, Post 73 commander and Iris’s husband, said the children enjoyed telling the Legion volunteers about the books as much as they enjoyed hearing about them. “It was difficult to tell who was having the best time – the Legion volunteers or the children,” he said. “The children, the volunteers and the YMCA employees all agreed that the Bucks for Books program was a great success.”
Iris agreed about the excitement shared by all.
“It was exciting to see their enthusiasm and their expression when explaining their book reports to us,” she said. Iris had a young boy who said his book was about an elephant that had an extra-long trunk to blow out of and the elephant blew the scales off fish and feathers off birds. “His eyes would just light up and he would just smile,” Iris said. “When I asked if he was telling the truth, he turned right to the pages where this happened.”
Iris and Buddy said they plan to conduct the Bucks for Books program again at the start of the next school year. “We hope it grows because I think children can teach themselves an awful lot by reading,” Iris said.
“We realize that our future is our children,” Buddy said.
Holley, and the children, would be grateful if Post 73 conducts the program again.
“It was an awesome experience for me to get to work with (The American Legion), and I know the kids loved it. Seeing them excited made me excited,” she said. “I hope they do it again, and I know the kids hope they come back.”