October 25, 2017, Flint, Michigan – If you believe that young people have lost interest in books, a visit to Flint, Michigan, might change your perspective. There, in about a year and a half, children have taken home between 12,000 and 13,000 books, thanks to the efforts of Monica Horton, a tutor and board member of St. Luke’s N.E.W. Life Literacy Center.
Monica recently retired from her years of service as a science teacher. Still wanting to be involved in education, she became a tutor and then a board member at N.E.W. Life, where Sister Carol Weber, OP, serves as Co-director.
“I tried to think of ways that we could help the community,” Monica said. Noting the “plethora” of children’s books at the Center, she decided to put them in buckets and give them out in restaurants. But, she discovered, “Our population isn’t going to restaurants, but soup kitchens.”
She and her husband, Jim, began leaving buckets of children’s books at soup kitchens in the Flint area. “We found out that the buckets consistently were empty” shortly after the books were left, Monica said. “My husband and I happened to work at a soup kitchen and we watched the children go to the buckets before they even went for food.”
Monica said she relies a great deal on help from her husband, who helps distribute the books, and on N.E.W. Life, which has become a collection hub. She also has turned to the local Flint community for continued donations, putting notices in local parish bulletins. Local community members have been very supportive of the project, some donating new books and other “scouring garage sales and finding places where there might be good books at a reasonable price,” Monica said. “It’s been magical. Every time we get low on books, we get a donation we never expected.”
Community members have also responded in other ways to help the cause. Volunteers from the Genesee Intermediate School District’s transition center for impaired adults “come and sort and clean the books, put stickers on them, and put them on shelves according to grades.”
There are many positive benefits to the Book Buckets, Monica said. For example, the books bring children and adults together, offering parents the opportunity to read to their children. “Some in the population can’t read, but everybody can say, ‘Show me the kitty,’” Monica noted.
Monica and the literacy center board are especially excited about the impact that Book Buckets is having on the children of Flint. “We’re changing people’s lives, one child, one bucket at a time,” she said. “We’re starting early with the children. If we can make reading not a job, but something exciting, interesting, and fun, then when they go to school they might have a totally positive attitude.”
New or gently used books for children in pre-school through eighth grade can be sent to Book Buckets at St. Luke’s N.E.W. Life Center, 3115 Lawndale Avenue, Flint, Michigan 48504.
November 9, 2016, Flint, Michigan – Sister Carol Weber, OP, and Sister Judy Blake, CSJ, Co-founders and Co-directors of St. Luke N.E.W. Life Center, received the Community Contributor of the Year Award for their service to the Flint community.
The award, bestowed by the Arab American Heritage Council (AAHC), was presented October 27 in Northbrook Center, Flint, during the AAHC’s 20th Annual Ensure the Legacy Awards Banquet. The banquet, bringing in some 350 people, also celebrated the 30 years of the AAHC’s service to the Flint community.
Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the physician who discovered the extent of the lead poisoning suffered by Flint children from the city’s contaminated water, was also honored at the banquet.
Sisters Carol and Judy have been working since 2000 with the people of Flint, first serving them through street ministry. They opened the N.E.W. Life Center in 2002 and offer a variety of programs, including a literacy center, employment preparation, a sewing co-op that provides women with a livelihood, and a food pantry.
“It was an honor to be recognized by the Arab-American community,” Sister Carol said. During her brief remarks, she focused on the theme of the evening, “Together it Can Happen.” She noted that by working together, the people of Flint can solve problems that the community faces. “Only together can we do anything,” Sister Carol said. “We can’t do anything in isolation.”
Sister Carol said she had heard in May that she and Sister Judy were to be honored this Fall, and that she was reminded only recently about the awards banquet. “I was overwhelmed with the Arab-American community wanting to honor us,” she said.
Meeting members of the AAHC helped her to realize that many people in the local Arab-American community are in the same situation as some of the local Hispanic community. Those who don’t understand English were unaware of the contaminated water in their community until others explained it to them.
Sister Carol sees the award as significant to her ministry. “It really means that there’s a whole Arab community that recognizes what we do and wants to partner with us,” she said. “They’re a group of people who certainly know what’s happening in Flint and want to make a difference.”