Student philanthropists help deliver a gift of literacy

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GREENFIELD — Students from area high schools gathered at the Hancock Community Foundation this week to begin preparations for the holiday season by wrapping books that elementary school students will receive as Christmas presents.

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The foundation’s Y-GIVE youth philanthropy board partnered on Tuesday, Oct. 22, with Bentley’s Buddies, an organization that uses service dogs as companions to help children practice their reading skills, on the project. The program is active in classrooms in Greenfield-Central and Southern Hancock schools.

“As part of the program, each child in each classroom that they visit receives a book as a present at Christmastime, at the end of the year,” foundation education officer Janet White said. “One of our students reached out to them to see if they could do anything as a service project, and they said, ‘yes, you can wrap our Christmas books.’”

Bentley’s Buddies will distribute approximately 1,000 books to students in the county. The program accepts gently used books donated by community members throughout the year. It also purchases some.

“Every child needs a book in the home. Believe it or not, some kids don’t have books, so if we can give the child at least one book they can call their own, that’s a success,” Bentley’s Buddies director Nickie Scott said.

Scott said giving children access to books can help them improve in many areas of academic achievement.

“As we know, reading is kind of the foundation for everything. If you read well, you’re going to do well in math. You’re going to do well in language arts, if you can master the reading, but you’ve got to have the materials first before you can master that,” Scott said.

The youth philanthropy group is composed of 16 students, one from each grade level from each of the four county high schools. The book wrapping event is just one of multiple service projects Y-GIVE members will complete throughout the school year, including spending a day working with children at Greenfield’s Head Start preschool.

The day at Head Start, an annual event, was one of Mt. Vernon High School student Alaina Nugent’s favorite things about participating in the program last year.

“I’m the youngest of three, so it was really nice to see a young child light up the room just from the simplest of things,” Alaina said.

Other Y-GIVE projects have included volunteering at the Hancock County Humane Society, conducting donation drives and assisting with outreach for Imagination Library Giving Week and Celebrate Hancock County.

Brent Oliver, a teacher at the Academy at Greenfield-Central, said participating in the program provides many benefits to the students involved.

“It is an excellent way for representatives from all four schools to come together to help serve the community and to work together. They work together and learn about philanthropy, learn about how the community foundation works, and they’re able to put some of those skills into practice so that they can, as a group, give back to the community as well,” Oliver said.

Tyler Murphy, a senior at Greenfield-Central High School, is participating in the program for the fourth year.

“Throughout all four years, I’ve learned more and more about non-profits and helping out philanthropic organizations,” Tyler said. “It’s been really helpful to me to learn leadership skills and how to help out my community.”

White said the Y-GIVE board has a strong group of students this year.

“They’re wonderful. They never miss a meeting when we get together,” White said. “For the past two years, everybody’s been at every activity. They value each other and their opinions. We do a lot of planning, and there’s a lot of good leadership in this group as well.”

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