Peru — From 2:30 until 3:15 p.m. every Monday through July this summer, the Peru Public Library offered a summer reading and crafts program for children.
That’s nothing new. The Peru library has offered the program for several years and, in fact, attendance was up this summer.
Carla Murtha has been a Peru librarian for 35 years. She said 649 children participated in the library’s summer reading program.
“It’s more children than we typically have. We are really proud of that number,” she said.
Other than attendance being up, however, the other difference with this summer’s reading program was who presented the program and the purpose behind it.
For her senior project, Maconaquah’s Jylian Vigar organized and hosted the reading event. She selected age-appropriate books to read to children, who sometimes ranged in age from 4 to 15. She also gave them snacks and played games associated with the books she read.
Christi Callane and her 4-year-old were regularly among those in Vigar’s audience.
“This has really been great,” said Callane, adding she and her son only missed one Monday this summer. “We are big on reading in our house. We think it is truly important to teach children reading is fun. She was able to connect the books with games and snacks and she did a very good job working with the kids.
“With a 1-year-old at home, I don’t get the library as much as I like, but this gave me an excuse to get to the library.”
Vigar completed the project as part of her senior advanced placement English class. Vigar, who will graduate in May 2012, said her goal was to get children engaged in reading while teaching by example that reading is fun.
She also wanted to ensure that other children have books to read so they can learn to love reading as much as she does.
“I’ve always loved reading,” Vigar said. “I have two younger brothers and I’ve read to them, and I love reading to littler kids.
“When we had to do our [senior] project, I knew this would be something I wanted to do and get children involved in it. When I read them ‘Rainbow Fish,’ we had Jell-O with gummy fish inside the Jell-O. They liked that a lot. They thought it was cool.”
Maconaquah High School principal David Noonan said, for almost two decades, the school has required that students complete senior projects that benefit the community.
And when the project ends, Noonan said, seniors still have work to complete. Seniors write a seven-page research paper about their project, submit to an interview and, each December, the public is invited to hear presentations about what the students learned.
“We’ve had students do projects for community beautification and to help Riley Children’s Hospital,” he said. “This has been a great project for [Vigar]. It’s a great community service project.
“You are taking your time to help someone else. I really love the community service piece of it.”
Besides the reading program itself, Vigar also did something else significant, according to her mother, Jennifer, who attended each reading session.
“For one thing, this was good community outreach, and it was an encouragement to the children to see that reading is very important,” she said of her 17-year-old daughter. “But her involvement also sends a message to other young people to give back to the community. A lot of times, young people don’t feel like they have a lot to offer, but that is so untrue. Young people have a lot to offer.”
Though Vigar’s project focused on reading, it wasn’t confined to the library. In March, she learned that federal funding for Reading Is Fundamental, the nation’s largest nonprofit children’s literacy program, would be slashed and children were in danger of not receiving books.
As a result, Vigar began raising money for the organization and encouraged parents who brought their children to her reading program to do the same. She said that was an additional community service aspect to her project that she particularly enjoyed.
Murtha said the library greatly benefited from Vigar’s efforts and the librarian hopes Vigar comes back during school breaks to resume reading to children.
“A lot of kids are busy doing other things in the summer and may not have taken the time to do this,” Murtha said. “This is the first time we’ve had someone this young do this, and I think it’s really cool what she has done. She has done a wonderful job.”