Giving Back~An Interview with the Director of the Grow Your Library program

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‘Tis the season for giving, and what better way to do that on a reading blog than to focus on organizations and authors who are doing their part to give back?

Last year, I met Gary Mlodzik through LinkedIn, and after learning about his work, I donated a handful of my Rosco the Rascal books to the literacy program he directs for Kids Need To Read. Impressed by the Grow Your Library program and his enthusiasm for it, I wanted to know more, so I asked Gary if he would speak to me in more depth on the blog. He responded quickly and this question-and-answer interview is the (long overdue) result of our exchange.

Q. Hi Gary, can you tell us a little bit about your organization and what you do there?

A. Sure, Shana, I’d love to. Thanks for having me here today. I’m a board member of the Kids Need to Read (KNTR) foundation. The mission of KNTR is to create a culture of reading for children by providing inspiring books to underfunded schools, libraries, and literacy programs across the United States, especially those which serve disadvantaged children. I am honored to serve on their board of directors.

I’m also the originator and director of the Grow Your Library program, which I formed under the umbrella of KNTR. My wife, Tina, is also a KNTR board member, and she and I are passionate about volunteering. Tina and I have now distributed over 10,000 books to public libraries and kids in communities with high levels of poverty. We have made donations in 14 states so far, with 3 new ones planned for 2020! Kansas, Nebraska, and Alaska are on the calendar!

Q. What a worthy cause! How did the Grow Your Library program start and how does it work?
A. Thanks! With 25 years in sales, I decided that it was time for me to reach outside of my comfort zone and start giving back to the community. After looking around at some extremely worthwhile organizations, I decided that I wanted to serve underprivileged children by focusing on increasing literacy, especially where the needs were the greatest. My wife, who worked as a library assistant for over 13 years in the elementary school system, was as eager to be involved as I was. She and I have always been avid readers and Kids Need To Read seemed like the right fit for us. In 2014, I was asked to be on the Board of Directors for KNTR, and in 2015, I developed the Grow Your Library program, which, by the way, is only one of many programs that KNTR runs.

So, the way it works is that each year, we carefully select six libraries in economically challenged communities in the USA and provide them with up to 400 books each. The donations range from board books to picture books to chapter and middle grade books to young adult books–any sort of (new and unused) children’s books that have been donated by generous authors and publishers throughout the year.

Q. That’s great! I understand that you get the community involved when you visit one of the recipient libraries. Can you share some experiences?

A. Yes, and this is probably our favorite part of the job. When we make the book donations, my wife, Tina, and I visit the library and hold a story time with the kids. The story times are always really fun for us. Kids just really bring joy wherever they go, don’t they?

But we don’t just read to them and drop off the books. We want to encourage philanthropy among the children as well, so we explain how the kids can “donate” more books to the library, themselves, just by emailing KNTR with a short note regarding what they like about reading, or what they like to read. Each time a child does this, an extra book is donated to the library with the child’s name on a book plate inside the cover! It’s the child’s gift to the library! Each child in attendance also gets a free book and a Highlights magazine to take home and keep. Sometimes the kids are astonished that the book is really theirs for life.

At a recent story time, Tina helped a young girl select a book and the child just stared at the book, looked up at Tina and said, “Is this really mine to keep forever?” A gift, indeed. It’s extremely rewarding for us.

Q. That’s so inspiring, how you get the kids involved and teach them about giving, too. So how can authors, organizations, and private citizens get involved?

A. Thanks for asking. We’re always in need of donations!

When it comes to books, we can use everything! We ask for donations of new books so the libraries can be proud of what they offer their patrons. Bi-lingual Spanish and English books are a huge need. We also need board books, picture books, chapter books, graphic novels, middle grade and young adult books of any sort. Grow Your Library serves 6 libraries per year, so most donors contribute 6 copies per title. That way each library gets the same book. Individuals can ship 6 copies of their books to KNTR from Amazon so the shipping is often free for authors with Prime.

KNTR – Mlodzik – GYL 
2450 W Broadway Rd, Suite 110,
Mesa, AZ 85202

For more information about the Grow Your Library program or to support us financially, please follow this link: http://kidsneedtoread.org/growyourlibrary/

Testimonials from some recipients:

“The new books are flying off the shelf!  The children are enjoying them. Thank you so much for including us in this amazing and generous program. We feel deeply honored to be included.“ ~Grand County Library, Moab, UT

“Thank you for generosity to our community! You have made a huge impact at the Hibbing Public Library!” ~Hibbing Public Library, Hibbing, MN

“What a treasure trove of books! All I can say is “thank you”. Thank you on behalf of our little library and thank you on behalf of all the Huachuca City children who will get to enjoy this embarrassment of riches you have provided!” ~Huachuca City Public Library, AZ

Some donors:

I am excited about what you are doing and am shipping out some books to help out.” ~Mercer Mayer, Author, Little Critter          

“Thank you for your beautiful work in the world.” ~Lauren Tarshis, Author, I Survived

“This is a great cause and I’m happy to be involved!” ~Leanna Renee Hieber, author, The Spectral City and other bestselling YA and adult series

Plus, more authors than we can name here have contributed books!

Thank you for sharing your work with us, Gary! And thank you, and Tina, all the others at KNTR and Grow Your Library, and all the authors and publishers who’ve been a part of this, for doing what you are doing to improve literacy, one child at a time.

Photos courtesy Deborah Griffin and/or Grow Your Library, KNTR

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