Ladies of the Books Get New County Wheels

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Chesterfield County Public Schools Superintendent Merv Daugherty addresses the media last week during the unveiling of two reused vans, one of which will be used as a bookmobile by Falling Creek Middle Reading Specialist Lisa Signorelli and Meadowbrook High Librarian Kristin Thrower (wearing white T-shirts in Context). ASH DANIEL

Inspired by the main character from their favorite novel, two women from Chesterfield sought to cultivate a love of reading by distributing thousands of free books to children and families in one of the county’s most disadvantaged communities.

Lisa Signorelli and Kristin Thrower launched a bookmobile program last September to put books in the hands of students at Falling Creek Middle School and Meadowbrook High School who were learning virtually from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Signorelli is employed as a reading specialist at Falling Creek Middle, while Thrower works as a librarian at Meadowbrook High. They felt compelled to help children from low-income families with limited access to books as school buildings and public libraries remained closed to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

Once a week, Signorelli would load hundreds of pounds and a folding table in the cargo area of ​​his Toyota Highlander and Thrower would do the same with his Volkswagen sedan. They would then go to one of the neighborhoods that feed these schools, set tables and distribute books to everyone who passed.

“At this point, we had no idea what it would become,” Signorelli recalled in an interview last week.

Over the past nine months, they have distributed over 10,000 books to approximately 1,300 people in 39 neighborhoods and are known as the “Book Ladies of the Creek” – a tribute to “Book Woman of Troublesome Creek,” a 2019 novel by Kim Michele Richardson.

Its main character, Cussy Mary Carter, is a traveling librarian in 1930s Kentucky who rides a pack mule to deliver books to poor Appalachian families.

“I honestly believe that a book can make a difference,” Thrower said. “When we go to a neighborhood, these kids know they matter to Chesterfield County.”

Signorelli and Thrower acquired a significant portion of the bookmobile inventory – typically 100 to 300 books per week – through Goodwill’s free book program for local teachers. They have received donations from retired educators, Clover Hill High School, the Richmond chapter of the Duke University Alumni Association and even Richardson herself; the author sent them books after learning about their story earlier this year.

Because the community of Falling Creek-Meadowbrook has the largest concentration of Latin American families in Chesterfield, the school system’s family and community engagement office has also given them texts for bilingual students and the school board has donated. money to buy books in Spanish.

In March, Signorelli and Thrower met with Superintendent Merv Daugherty and asked if he could get them a van for the bookmobile so they no longer had to use their own vehicles. Daugherty, in turn, contacted the county administrator, Joe Casey, and asked if the county had any vans he could spare.

Instead of auctioning them off as surplus county property, the supervisory board last month approved the donation of two white vans to the school system.

The Chesterfield Education Foundation then lined up corporate sponsors – Towne Bank Chesterfield and Uptown Alley – to cover the $ 5,000 cost of wrapping vehicles with personalized signage provided by FASTSIGNS Midlothian.

“This is the type of project that it’s obvious to help with,” Matoaca District Supervisor Kevin Carroll said at a press conference last week. “When it comes to us and we have been informed of this [Signorelli and Thrower] are doing, it’s just amazing that people are taking the initiative to go out into the community and try to make a difference.

Chesterfield County Public Schools assigned one of the vans to a bookmobile and the other to various community engagement events throughout the county; the latter will be equipped with a snow machine, a popcorn machine, a Wi-Fi hotspot and three Chromebook laptops, and can be accessed by any school principal .

“This is an opportunity to show that we are going out to the community,” said Daugherty. “We don’t wait for them to come to us. We go to them.

This is the concept that prompted Signorelli and Thrower to launch the bookmobile program. Now the demand for books has increased to such an extent that parents and children are following their weekly distribution schedule and following them from neighborhood to neighborhood.

In return, parents have provided them with hot chocolate on cold winter mornings, bottled water when the weather warms up, and countless other expressions of appreciation.

“It was an incredible experience,” said Signorelli. “What started out as a small idea, 20 or 30 pounds… it’s a ripple effect. Now we have about 500 books, charts, posters and signs in each of our vehicles. “

Not for long. The “ladies of the book” are in the middle of a two-week vacation, but they plan to load up the new dedicated bookmobile and hit the road after the July 4th vacation.

“It’s a dream come true,” Thrower added. “It will be Christmas morning whenever the van shows up and the kids line up to buy books.”

CORRECTION: In earlier print and online versions of this story, we have incorrectly identified the Chesterfield Education Foundation. We regret the error.


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