It is a most rewarding and satisfying experience when two friends come full circle, and both feel as if they are making a positive difference in people’s lives. In the past few months this has happened to my good friend Randall Aragon and me.
Randall came as the chief of police for the city of Conway back in 2004, I believe. I am pleased to say that I am the very first person he met when he came for his interview after applying for the job. At the time he was chief of police in Lumberton, N.C., and his wife had been reading my column online. She said to him, "You need to get to know this man."
With this encouragement, Randall called me up and invited me to have dinner with him the evening prior to his early morning interview. We had a great meal and a great visit. I took him around town, gave him a feel for our great community, and told him what little I knew about the law enforcement challenges he would be facing should he be hired.
Well, he was hired, and thus began a friendship that has continued to this day. Soon after he came and had settled in, I invited him to join our local Lions Club and I would be his sponsor. He accepted and made a real contribution, and this also gave me an opportunity to spend time with him on a regular basis.
After a bit we discovered that we were both interested in literacy and had several conversations on this topic. He was reared in Hell’s Kitchen in New York City and his mother was an avid reader. Along about junior high school, he made a bookshelf out of metal rods to keep the books he had begun to collect. It was about this time that one of my readers over in Bluefield, W.Va., shared a very sobering literacy statistic with me. She said that statistics had revealed that 61 percent of low-income families had no books in the home for their children to read. Having no books, we knew they also had no place to keep them, and this got us to thinking.
At this point we decided to start a bookcase project to give bookcases and a starter set of books to children being reared in low-income families. We even took our mayor to lunch and shared our vision with him. He was very supportive, and after we had formed a committee of like-minded citizens, we had our first meeting at City Hall on June 9, 2005.
This is how it began and the rest is history — 12 years of building and giving 600 bookcases and a starter set of books to these special children. Randall left to take a police chief’s job in Texas. We continued on and now have projects in six states with a combined total of more than 2,000 hand crafted bookcases, all done with no person earning a penny for their time, talents and resources, all "giving back."
Earlier I said we had come full circle. Randall is now chief of police in Fairbanks, Alaska, and has convinced Mike Kolasa, director of literacy for the state of Alaska, to help him start a project there in Fairbanks. They have succeeded and here is part of a note from him regarding their project, "We had a great night last night for the Bookcase for Every Child project at Birth Park! I forgot about the magic that happens when kids get books."
I might say that this was a grand affair with the children, their parents, their mayor and the local television giving the ceremony coverage on their newscast. This is proof that it only takes a few committed people to make it happen, and I am honored to say again, "Randall and I have come full circle."
(Editor’s Note: Bookcase for Every Child – Changing Lives & Futures – ONE AT A TIME. Please visit our website: www.bookcaseforeverychild.com)