Like other court clerks, Tom Hall spends much of his workday and a lot of his leisure time reading. He knows that many disadvantaged students can’t afford to buy books – and some don’t have even one book to call their own.
So last year Tom, then president of the National Conference of Appellate Court Clerks (NCACC), talked to LexisNexis about partnering on an outreach event during NCACC’s annual meeting in Sacramento, Calif., in August 2009. Tom envisioned putting books in the hands of students from Sacramento’s poorest areas.
"So NCACC had the idea, and LexisNexis handled all the logistics," said Tom, Clerk of the Court, Supreme Court of Florida. "It was a true collaborative effort."
Meeting sponsor LexisNexis found that students attending two South Sacramento schools – Ethel Phillips and Maple Elementary – are in challenged neighborhoods affected by poverty, substance abuse, crime, homelessness and other issues. By coordinating with each school principal, who supplied reading lists for books in English and Spanish, NCACC and LexisNexis planned a book drive and evening "wrapping party" at the meeting Aug. 5.
Before gift-wrapping all 242 new books – donated by members of NCACC and the National Center for State Courts, meeting attendees wrote a personal note of encouragement to each student.
"I wrapped Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, so I wrote about how much I loved that book and hoped it would get the student interested in reading more," said Nikki Daugherty of LexisNexis, Director, Government Content Acquisition, who worked with LexisNexis Cares on the NCACC meeting. "The event generated so much excitement about books and reading. We realized how the simple act of giving a book would have so much impact on these students, since a book can take them where their feet can’t go."
Since many NCACC members attend the annual meeting with their families, the wrapping party became a family affair. "Our children learned that not everybody can afford to buy books, so it gave them a new perspective," Tom said.
At Maple Elementary in Sacramento, principal Lorena Carrillo gave the wrapped books to students in grades 4 through 6 on the first day of school in September.
"I knew it would be like Christmas to them, and it was!" she said. "They were very surprised and are really excited about reading the books and sharing their adventures."
Tom said meeting attendees responded to the outreach activity even better than he’d hoped. "They know the importance of reading, so this project struck a chord," he said. "It was something they really wanted to do and something truly needed in this Sacramento community."