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Amherst literacy group donates 100,000th book to Navajo Nation

From left to right, Irving Nelson, Tierra Wilkins, Paul Curran, Briana Wiggins, David Mazor, Kunali Gurditta,, Benjamin Schneider and Rechel Om.

COURTESY DAVID MAZOR

From left to right, Irving Nelson, Tierra Wilkins, Paul Curran, Briana Wiggins, David Mazor, Kunali Gurditta,, Benjamin Schneider and Rechel Om. COURTESY DAVID MAZOR Purchase photo reprints »

The organization sent a truckload of 15,000 to 16,000 books worth roughly $170,000 to the Navajo reservation Monday, hitting its goal, according to executive director David Mazor.

“This is a very cost-effective way to deliver hundreds of thousands of dollars in books to people who really need them,” he said.

Reader to Reader launched the Navajo book drive in 2009, with the hope of expanding literacy and learning opportunities for the nation’s most chronically underserved and vulnerable communities, poor rural towns. The organization’s staff and volunteers spend six months collecting, sorting and boxing up donated books for each shipment. Representatives of the Navajo Nation Library then travel to Amherst twice a year to pick them up.

Mazor said the idea to serve the Navajo Nation came from a high school volunteer who had seen a documentary about life on the reservation.

“The Navajo reservation is one of the poorest places in the U.S., so we thought it was a great idea,” he said.

With no bookstores on the reservation, and one central library with one small branch serving an area of 27,000 square-miles, access to books is limited.

“There is a tremendous need for books on the Navajo reservation,” Irving Nelson, director of the Navajo Nation Library, said during a phone interview Wednesday. He was driving the latest book shipment back to Arizona from Amherst as he talked. He said the library staff sorts through the books donated by Reader to Reader and distributes anything the library doesn’t take.

Nelson said that the donated books have made a big impact on the people.

“We bring books to 16 schools and 18 different Boys and Girls Clubs across the reservation, as well as delivering books to the Hopi Mission School, middle school and high school,” Nelson said. “When we last delivered books to the Head Start program, the kids spontaneously started jumping with joy.”

Nelson said books are also delivered to a variety of community centers and a correctional facility.

To celebrate reaching its 100,000-book goal, Mazor, staff person Kathryn Libby and four Amherst College students will fly to Arizona Friday to meet Nelson’s truck and help unload the delivery.

And then they will set their sights on collecting 100,000 more.

“We like to get a wide variety of newer books that are in good condition,” Mazor said. “We do take drop-offs, but the best thing to do is to make an appointment by phone or send us an email.”

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