By Alison Stanton
During his long career as an educator in Chandler and Wisconsin, Roger Bonngard saw first-hand how reading helps with literacy and a love of learning.
When Bonngard, who is active in the Rotary and other community organizations, read about the Cops ‘N Kids program last fall on the Racine, Wisc., Rotary website, he knew right away that he wanted to bring the program to Chandler.
Cops ‘N Kids is a national initiative founded by Julia Burney Witherspoon, a police officer from Racine. The goals of the program—which involves police officers keeping books in the trunks of their patrol cars to hand out to children—are to connect kids with free books, to help to inspire an interest in reading, and to encourage positive relationships between kids, the police and the community.
“I’ve always been concerned with people who are in need of help, and I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to help serve the underserved children in Chandler,” Bonngard says.
After speaking by phone with Witherspoon about the program, he met with the Chandler police chief, who was very supportive of the idea.
“I want Cops ‘N Kids Chandler to be all about community involvement,” Bonngard explains. “I don’t want to use state money or federal funds; I want to go out and collect gently used and new books and give them to children, who in many cases do not have any books of their own.”
In addition to having local officers carry books in their trunks, Bonngard also hopes to create a Reading Room in Chandler where kids can come to pick up a free book, and also read to a volunteer and/or hear a story.
Bonngard also plans on hosting Celebrate Reading events for local families to attend.
“We will bring out thousands of books, and the children can pick out whichever book they want for free,” he says.
Volunteers at the event will add a “to and from” label inside every book.
“The label will say something like ‘To Alyssa, from Roger,’ and the child will know ‘this other person cared for me, and gave me a book that I can keep.’”
Cops ‘N Kids Chandler’s goal is to distribute thousands of books a year. Bonngard has met with local nonprofit organizations, who agreed to be donation sites. In addition, he recently finished a book drive, and he welcomes local groups and organizations like Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops to host book drives of their own.
“By April 1, we had collected around 1,700 books, mostly by word of mouth,” he says.
Becky Jackson, president and CEO of ICAN: Positive Programs for Youth in Chandler, says that when Bonngard contacted her about helping with Cops ‘N Kids Chandler, she readily agreed to be one of the founding board members.
“Right now our goal is to collect as many children’s books from age 0 to 13 years old and categorize them, then develop a plan with each agency on how to work together with that agency to bring more opportunities for every youth in our community to have a book, if they want one,” Jackson says.
Bonngard says he is thrilled to help kids discover the joy of reading.
“Reading and literacy are both so important for their future.”
For more information about Cops ‘N Kids Chandler, including donation sites and how to host a book drive, call Bonngard at (480) 223-3958 or visit www.copsnkidschandler.org.
Alison Stanton is a freelance writer who lives in the East Valley. She can be reached at email@example.com