By Joel Hall
On a rainy Thursday morning, a busload of children from Applegate Academy and Preschool landed at the Rainbow House in Jonesboro, each carrying small stacks of books under his or her arms.
Eventually, 500 new books were given to another cadre of young people, who come to Rainbow House with few possessions at all.
Monique Henderson, marketing and grants specialist for Rainbow House, said that many children who come to Rainbow House have their education interrupted as a result of being displaced. She said the new books will allow Rainbow House to start a library, as well as a reading program to make sure the children at the shelter can read at the same level as their peers.
"Our therapist is in the process of starting a reading program here, so this donation was right on time," Henderson said. "These books are going to give us resources that we don't have."
The Stockbridge-based academy recently won the "Care Where You Are" Sweepstakes, a national event sponsored by Scholastic Book Clubs aimed at promoting philanthropic literacy. On Thursday, the school donated its prize - 500 new books from Scholastic - to the Rainbow House.
Noel Vitale, a pre-kindergarten teacher at Applegate Academy and Preschool, said her class was one of 16,000 classrooms nationwide that read 100 books in order to be entered into the contest. Her class was one of 200 classrooms in the country to win the prize of 500 new books.
The books included such titles as "Froggy Plays in the Band," by Jonathan London, for the early grades; the "Junie B. Jones" series by Barbara Park, for the middle grades, and works by Edgar Allan Poe and J.R.R. Tolkien, for older teens.
"I am aware that children come here temporarily, and often, it is only with what they can carry," said Vitale. "They were my first thought. They get to choose [what] book they want because so many times in their life, they don't have a choice of who their mother is, where they are going to stay. They will have something that belongs to them ... something concrete that they can hold in their hand."
Vitale, who describes herself as a child advocate, said she wanted Rainbow House to benefit from the contest because it provides transitional housing to abused and displaced children waiting to be placed into foster care. With the donation, every child who comes into Rainbow House will be able to leave with a new book, she said.
"I've never won anything," said Vitale. When Scholastic tried to contact her in January to let her know that her class had won the contest, "I deleted the first e-mail," she said. However, a second came and it was read. "It was meant to be," she added.
Belinda Jones, executive director of Rainbow House, said the donation will greatly benefit the shelter, and the fact that the books were delivered by four- and five-year-olds was particularly meaningful.
"It certainly was a very gracious gift," she said. "I think including the children in the process certainly builds their giving spirit, and community spirit. It was certainly a great learning experience for them. I think it lets them appreciate what they have in life."
Vitale said the donation taught her students "a lesson that they don't teach in school.
"The kids loaded up the books themselves," she said. "They learned more than just ABCs. It's an experience that they will always remember."