Tracie Hayes, program director for The South Suburban Chicago Chapter (SSCC) of Jack and Jill, an organization of African American mothers, says Martin Luther King Jr. Day is the perfect opportunity to remind youth what to strive for.
“We are creating leaders. And if you’re not fit to serve, you’re not fit to lead,” Hayes said. “Dr. King was a total embodiment of service and leadership, so we want to cherish that.”
And on Monday, SSCC members plan to do just that. The chapter has partnered with Respond Now to organize a food drive in King’s honor. SSCC members will be stationed at Village Hall, 2800 Flossmoor Road, where they will prepare donations to be delivered to Respond Now, and host a day of family-friendly activity from 2 to 4 p.m.
A wide range of other MLK Day of Service events are taking place Monday at venues in Flossmoor and nearby towns. Information on other Day of Service events and how to contribute, can be found at www.flossmoor.org.
Jack and Jill was founded in 1938, with the SSCC established decades later in 1976. For Hayes, it’s the opportunity to link present and past that makes the Day of Service important.
“Martin Luther King Jr. is a part of our historical culture, and it’s important that we expose our kids to their cultural heritage,” she said. “One of our tenants is philanthropic giving and acts of service.”
Flossmoor Program and Event Coordinator Laura Brennan-Levy says the best thing about the Day of Service is that it keeps the community connected.
“Part of the goal is to connect residents of Flossmoor to each other and to the village. Placing volunteers side by side turns out to be very effective,” Brenna-Levy laughs.
For Western Avenue School Principal Lisa Dallacqua, this sense of community lies within the pages of gently used books.
“We didn’t want to do a typical book drop-off for the Day of Service, where people just drop off the books and leave. Instead, we wanted to build a sense of community. It’s twofold: reading and sharing,” she said. “Sharing a book creates a connection, even without meeting the person who will receive it.”
With the help of students, Dallacqua has organized the Literacy Awareness Project. On Monday, the Western Avenue library will be a place for residents to donate books, for high schoolers to spend time reading to younger students, and for the love of reading to enchant them all.
“When kids develop that love for reading, it opens so many doors of cultural exposure and imaginative thinking,” Dallacqua said. “All of those things make our kids more interesting people, better students and better human beings. When they’re curious, students expose themselves to things that help them grow. Reading is so critical. And if they develop a love for it when they’re young, they carry that with them as they grow, wherever they go.”
The Literacy Awareness Project calls for residents to inscribe the books they donate with personalized reflections for the next reader.
“Books have the ability to shape and mold you, no matter what age. The point is to write a message on how the book shaped your life,” she said. “To build that connection human to human as the book passes from one reader to another.”
The Literacy Awareness Project aims to establish human connection far beyond Flossmoor. Donated books will be sent to Pangea Education Development, a nonprofit committed to sustainable education projects in Uganda, Africa.
Through Pangea, founded by former Western Avenue Elementary teacher Andrew Bauer, volunteers transcribe the rich oral traditions of Ugandan communities, and publish them in Swahili and English, to be shared with readers near and far. Dallacqua says, much like a nostalgic note scrawled in the interior of a cherished book, these oral histories enrich readers on both ends.
“This is about valuing what other communities have. With the Uganda project, not only are our kids giving books to share with others far away, but Pangea publishes Ugandan oral traditions and uses them to share these communities’ values,” she said. “That give and receive, the equal exchange, is so critical. It shows all the kids involved that everyone has something of value to offer.”
Book donations can be made at Western Avenue Elementary School Library on Monday, from noon to 2 p.m. Respond Now is accepting both monetary donations and non-perishable food items at Village Hall.