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Kiwanians arrive, bearing exciting gifts

They weren't prepared for the stir caused by the arrival of 50 books at a day care center. They're eager to give out more.


© St. Petersburg Times, published July 1, 2001

They weren't prepared for the stir caused by the arrival of 50 books at a day care center. They're eager to give out more.

ST. PETERSBURG -- They dropped their toys, put off sloshing in sudsy water and bounded toward the visitors bearing presents.

The big men carried books with pop-up pictures that transported far-off forests right to inquisitive little fingers. One book was about a cat in a hat. Others were about cars and trucks. Cinderella. Spaghetti.

Eager hands reached out, pointing to pictures. Lips moved to sound words aloud. Little bodies, some with beaded braids swinging, clambered into comfy laps, ready for the magic of storyland.

"I like spaghetti," said one small girl, responding to coils of pasta pictured in a book with the exciting title More Spaghetti, I Say.

Mack Graves, a gift-bearing visitor, couldn't have imagined a happier scene. Last Wednesday, Graves and three fellow Kiwanians from Seminole had undertaken the task of delivering 50 new and used books to preschoolers at Happy Workers Children's Center, 920 19th St. S.

"It was overwhelming," said Graves, whose group is formally known as the Kiwanis Club of Seminole, Breakfast.

"I had one child who crawled up one knee, one on the other, and another one was standing in the middle. They were just as sweet as they could be. They were ravenous with those books."

Club president Lee R. Walters added: "From our standpoint, we were super-elated. I just could not get over one little girl. She had three or four books in her lap and was reading one already."

Wednesday was the beginning of the Seminole club's effort to give books to preschoolers.

"We understand very clearly that children do a lot more in school when they have been read to. The program has been designed so that the children can take the books home with them. This will create an interest in stories, poems," said Graves, who is a retired St. Petersburg Junior College instructor and was president of Pinellas County's preschool association in 1960.

He added that Happy Workers was selected for the Kiwanis program because of his longtime admiration of the school's work.

"It's doing more good than ever," he said.

Wednesday morning, before the Kiwanians distributed their books, Dr. Virginia Irving, executive director of Happy Workers, spoke of the school that Willie Lee McAdams, wife of a Presbyterian minister, founded in 1929 for the working poor.

"There are some things that make us unique. We are one of the few remaining landmarks in the area," Dr. Irving said, referring to the historic African-American neighborhood that is home to the 25-acre Jordan Park public housing complex and the former 22nd Street business district.

Happy Workers, which has 172 children, including 20 who are participating in its summer Peace Camp, is much more than a day care center, Dr. Irving told the Kiwanis members. Besides its basic preschool curriculum, pupils also receive lessons in values such as sharing, conflict resolution, tolerance, compassion and conservation.

These values, said Dr. Irving, who has a doctorate in education from Nova University, "permeate everything we do."

She also spoke of Happy Workers' family literacy program, called Read to Your Bunny, that encourages parents to read to their children. With donations from local organizations, including the St. Petersburg Kiwanis Club, Happy Workers is able to send home one book a month with children for their personal libraries. Parents also are encouraged to borrow books from the school's library.

After the enthusiastic reception they received Wednesday, the Seminole Kiwanians decided to increase their gift to Happy Workers.

"We will find out how many preschool children they have and we are going to take sufficient books so every preschool child can take a book home," said Graves, who is chairman of the club's preschool reading program.

The group, which meets Tuesday mornings at Sher's Kitchen, 10251 Seminole Blvd., is taking its program closer to home as well. Graves said he will meet with the director of Ridgecrest Day Care Center in Largo this week to discuss donating books. His group also hopes to present books to Head Start programs and migrant children, he said.

Kiwanis International, the club's umbrella body, encourages members to participate in its Young Children: Priority One service program, which addresses the needs of young children. As part of this effort, said Chris Rice, director of program development for Kiwanis International in Indianapolis, some clubs work with the Reading Is Fundamental program and other literacy projects. In October, Kiwanis International will launch a program to encourage its high school- and college-level clubs to host reading events for children, Rice said.

Seminole club member Graves is still ecstatic about Wednesday's successful presentation to the boys and girls at Happy Workers.

"I didn't quite know how the children would react," Graves said.

"There was no awkwardness at all. They just swarmed us and crawled all over us and that is what we want them to do with these books."

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