YPN-Volunteer-JAN 2014

Written by Shenneth Dove-Morse

On a chilly January afternoon in South Philadelphia, 30 volunteers met at George W. Sharswood Elementary to organize the school’s library as a one day service project in observance of Martin Luther King Day. Ten years ago, $100,000 was invested in the school’s library. But with no librarian to maintain the books, the library was in need of organizing.

To implement the one-day service project, The Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce’s Young Professional Network (YPN) partnered with Achieve Now, a local nonprofit organization with a mission to close the achievement gap in reading and mathematics among chronically underperforming students. With the help of adult and student volunteers and partnerships with schools throughout the Tri-State, Achieve Now’s goal is to have 10,000 children achieve literacy fluency or numeracy competency by June 2015.

Sharswood Elementary principal, Maureen Skalski has been at the Pre-K through 8 school for 14 years. Principal Skalski greeted volunteers and kindly provided delicious soft pretzels and water as a snack.

The Sharswood Elementary library was filled with books: stacks of books, books in boxes, and books on crowded shelves for children of varying ages. The library also housed two neat rows of Mac desktop computers. Principal Skalski explained that students also have access to iPad’s to fulfill some of their research and technology needs. But the numerous books in the library weren’t organized in a manner that would make it easy for students to grab the books they want to read for their studies or for pleasure.

“I want our students to have exposure to the same opportunities to utilize books and technology that I would give to my own child so they will be able to compete with their peers, said Skalski”

Achieve Now’s Executive Director, Renee Archawski quickly organized tasks for volunteers so they could get to work.  Volunteers worked on clearing shelves of books, sorting books by age and grade level, labeled bookshelves by grade level so books could be re-shelved in an organized fashion.  Though libraries are typically organized by using the Dewy Decimal System, organizing books by age and grade level will be easier for the school to maintain without a school librarian.

The atmosphere in the Sharswood Elementary library on Martin Luther King Day was cheerful and collaborative. Volunteers worked quickly and efficiently while they chatted with each other, made professional connections, learned about the work of Achieve Now, and noted the books they recognized from their own childhoods.

“It’s a great thing to give back to the community and to see how much of an impact you can make by just giving a few hours of your time. It feels good to have helped a school that didn’t have a librarian,” said volunteer and YPN member, Leah Semmelhaack.

The YPN and Achieve Now coordinators of the service project were pleased with the turnout for the event.  “Today’s project was fantastic.  We had more volunteers than expected. The work went by much faster because of the turnout,” said YPN member Olivia Freeland who worked on event coordination.

“The library needed an overhaul to make it more usable for students. We were happy to partner up with the YPN for this event. The volunteers have been amazing!” said Archawski.

Brima Idriss, another YPN member who worked on event coordination, had Dr. King’s legacy in mind during this service project.  “I enjoyed myself here today. The turnout was great for an event taking place on MLK Day. We made a difference on a day that is all about making a difference,” said Idriss.

Principal Skalski thought service project would be a pleasant surprise for both students and staff who were not aware that this service project was taking place. “I really appreciate everyone coming out today to work on this project. It’s really going to benefit our children,” said Skalski.

For more information on Achieve Now, visit: http://www.achieve-now.com/.