GENEVA — Locking the doors of libraries and closing schools under state shutdown orders may have helped reduce the spread of COVID-19, but it also meant reduced access to books at a time when they were needed most.
“The big thing for us was with the library closed, we knew that families would have trouble getting books, and if you don’t have books at your house, you don’t read,” said Geneva Reads Executive Director Anne Schühle.
Geneva Reads helped fill that void by distributing hundreds of books to more than 250 children in kindergarten through fifth grade during the pandemic.
It’s just one of the reasons Schühle and Geneva Reads were given the Community Partner of the Year award by Hobart and William Smith Colleges. They and other recipients were selected by the Colleges’ Service-Learning Advisory Council.
Geneva Reads was nominated by Sarah Whitten, an assistant professor of history at HWS.
“Geneva Reads is deeply committed to providing Geneva’s kids with books that foster learning, creativity and comfort,” Whitten said. “The program works so hard to bring the joy of books to local kids through its Community Bookshelves, its annual Book Fest, tables at the farmers’ market and other community events, as well as through local schools.”
Geneva Reads Board of Directors President Nina McCarthy said the organization appreciates the award.
“Geneva Reads is honored to be recognized by HWS for our efforts to make literacy a daily part of Genevans’ lives,” she said by email this week. “Anne Schühle as executive director especially deserves this recognition for her leadership in providing diverse programming for our bilingual and homeless children in Geneva.”
Schühle said having the nomination come from Whitten, one of the organization’s 80 volunteers, makes it extra special.
Geneva Reads not only got books out to school kids at home during the pandemic but also distributed over 600 books to doctor’s offices through its Healthy Readers program at the onset of the outbreak. The program provides new books to all children from age 2 weeks to 4 years at Finger Lakes Medical Associates and Finger Lakes Community Health, which serves low-income and migrant families.
Geneva Reads provides money for children from lower-income families to buy books at an annual school book fair. However, with school closed and the book fair canceled, the organization found another way to get books into those students’ hands. It moved funds allocated for the book fair to help purchase 1,000 books for home distribution this spring.
The school-age distribution took lots of organization and volunteers, said Schühle — and a considerable amount of space in her city home.
“I had about a thousand books in my house, and we would take orders,” she said. “We asked teachers to reach out to their students and send us names, addresses, reading level and interests, and I would put together a package for the family. One of my volunteers would come by and pick them up on my porch. We did about 12 different runs.”
Schühle said it’s important the kids have a say in what books they receive, explaining that a study in Rochester indicated children are more likely to read the books when they pick their own.
The book distributions through Geneva Reads’ myriad of programs wouldn’t happen without her long list of volunteers, Schühle stressed.
“We’ve got wonderful volunteers, and there is absolutely no way this program would run without them,” she said.
A similar book distribution will take place at summer school in Geneva, which by executive orders, will be conducted under the distance learning model schools used during the spring.
Geneva Reads also returns to the city’s Farmers Market this Thursday in the Exchange Street parking lot, Schühle noted.
Geneva Reads’ other programs include its annual Community Read, Healthy Readers, Geneva Reads at WIC, Random Acts for Reading and Project Sweet Sleep. The organization also provides one-on-one reading encouragement through “I PAWS to Read.”