Maxine Durst and Mary Marshall joined Altrusa International of Roseburg, nearly two decades ago because of the club’s focus on encouraging kids to read more books.
That’s why they started the Celebration of Literacy, an annual event that promotes reading, especially kids. Now the women have dedicated nearly two decades of their lives to the program, which has a goal of showing that reading is the foundation to all learning, and critical for future success.
It took the women, who are co-chairs of Celebration of Literacy, about a year to get the first event off the ground. Sponsored by the Altrusa International of Roseburg and the Umpqua Literacy Council, the first event happened in 2002.
“It took about a year to line up the first one,” Durst said. “The concept was that it would be a big umbrella project and off of the spokes would be different reading-related activities.”
Originally, it was aimed at the public in general, to encourage interest in reading. Now with the development of more events for children, the focus of the event has shifted to kids.
The specific events are coordinated by Durst. Marshall gathers books for the book giveaway program, and she has thousands of them stored in the Altrusa offices.
Marshall is the district chair for Literacy for Altrusa. She liked the idea of encouraging kids to read more, so she jumped at the chance to help with the Celebration of Literacy.
“I was really excited about it because it encompassed getting kids to read, so I asked Maxine, if I got this going, if she would help me. Now she’s doing all the leg work and I’m doing the physical work,” Marshall said. “And in the last 15 years, we’ve given away almost 170,000 books and 90 percent of them to children. We’re trying to develop the love of reading early in life because it becomes a lifelong thing.”
More donations than normal have been coming in this year, and Marshall expects to give out more books than normal.
“We give a lot of books to the food pantries throughout the county during the Celebration and one way or another, we give away over 9,000 books,” she said.
When the Celebration of Literacy was founded, the organizers planned for the activities to be handled by different groups in the community so it wouldn’t all have to be done by Altrusa volunteers, and lot organizations got involved at that time. But she added that Altrusa still does the bulk of the work to put on the program.
Durst says participation has increased from about 700 people the first year to over 20,000 that are served now.
“It’s just gotten bigger and bigger as the years go by,” Durst said.
Planning starts more than a year ahead of the event, and Durst does most of the time-consuming grant writing. Some of the grants for next year are actually due this week — even before this year’s scheduled events. The grants are used to buy books and to pay for the various events.
Durst said it’s been pleasing for her to see what Celebration of Literacy has accomplished over the 17 previous events that they’ve put on.
“I’ve watched it grow from this little project to one that is expected of the kids,” Durst said. “To them it’s just an event that’s going to happen every year, so it kind of keeps you going to make sure you fulfill that expectation that these kids have of you.”
Altrusa has gotten good community support, especially with donated books.
“People clean out their cupboards and want to get rid of books, so the books come to us,” Durst said. “So this year, particularly, we haven’t had to go out and try to find books, they’ve been coming to us.”
The Celebration of Literacy events kick off with Super Hero Days starting Friday, and running for two weeks. Local police officers, some with their canine units, will read to elementary school kids at those events. The 10 Super Hero reading events are held at 8 different locations in the county.
Durst met with representatives of the nine volunteer libraries in the the county and suggested that they each do a Super Hero Day and the library people jumped at the idea.
“They’ve just taken this on and it’s been wonderful to see and I’m so impressed with these volunteer libraries,” Durst said. “They are truly dedicated, and Altrusa is giving them Super Hero books, and Hero Haven, the comic book store gave them over 300 books.”
Other events include a book drive at Wildlife Safari, Valentines for Veterans sponsored by the Boys and Girls Club and a Drama Class Play Day at the Rose Theater at Roseburg High School.
There is a Reading Fair planned on Feb. 23 at the fairgrounds, and it culminates with the Oregon Battle of the Books at Brockway School in Winston on March 2.
“The Battle of the Books started with us and the Boys & Girls Club took it on and developed it as one of their projects and it’s now gone statewide and it’s grown until it’s now statewide,” Durst said.