A total of 50 book houses have been installed throughout Berkshire County.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Hundreds of people shook it up on the dance floor at Hancock Shaker Village on Friday night.
The dance party Friday night capped of the Berkshire United Way's Day of Caring during which dozens go businesses found ways to donated to the organization's childhood literacy efforts. Further, 50 book houses were installed all over the county as a mini-lending library, part of the Little Free Library movement.
"The Day of Caring was a way for folks who couldn't participate in the book houses — restaurants and stores for example — who wanted to be part of the day but couldn't host a house. So what we said to them is 'if you want to participate, you can do so by making an in-kind donation of proceeds or a straight donation and it would go to the United Way's literacy efforts,' " Day of Caring co-Chairwoman Christina Barrett said.
"We had about 23 who made some contribution in some way."
The United Way hoped to raise $25,000 through the efforts, which included the $50 Movers and Shakers dance party at night. Co-Chairman Michael Wynn said the event was capped at 275 tickets and as of Friday afternoon, there were only a dozen left.
"We wanted to celebrate it in a way that engaged everybody who participated in the book-house project and encourage people to come out who are not normally associated with United Way events," Wynn said. "All of the businesses who worked on the book house project have young professionals who have contributed to that effort and we wanted to make sure they felt welcomed as well."
Wynn said the ticket sales were a mix of businesses buying blocks for their employees and individual sales. Wynn, who has served on the United Way board, was particularly impressed with the number of faces he wasn't used to seeing at United Way events.
The evening featured a DJ, "pop up" dance demonstrations — starting off with a traditional dance led by Hancock Shaker Village staff — catered food, milkshakes, and beer and wine. Not only was the event intended as a fundraiser but also one that celebrates the efforts of the United Way.
"There are three main objectives of the United Way. There is positive youth development, early childhood literacy, and financial stability," Barrett said. "The proceeds will go toward early childhood, particularly the Pittsfield Promise and in Great Barrington the extension of that which is Chapter One."
Part of the childhood literacy efforts is the book houses. The lending libraries operate on a take one, leave one basis. The 50 houses have been installed in parks, at housing projects, and in other areas throughout Berkshire County and volunteer "caretakers" will keep watch over them and make sure the books are stocked.
"We're as committed as ever to making sure that every family in Berkshire County has easy access to materials that will improve early childhood literacy to make sure that our children are on the right track to a successful academic career and prosperous life," said Berkshire United Way President and CEO Kristine Hazzard.
"The book houses will be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and our hope is that this will become a community-led, self-sustained addition to Berkshire County that demonstrates that we recognize the essential role of literacy in our lived and our community.
Employees at Saudi Arabia Basic Industries Corp., SABIC, assembled the houses as a contribution, expanding the project from what was eyed as one or two in September to 50.
"We spent three or four hours working together building these houses. It is a great way to have camaraderie, and to help the community," Greg Adams, of SABIC, said.
The book houses are not the end of the literacy efforts though. The Berkshire United Way has installed learning trails at city parks, and held book drives and countywide forums.
"If we know kids don't get to school ready to read, then they don't ever catch up. The metric they measure is third-grade reading level and it is really designed in pre-K engagement to have the children reading before they get into school so they don't get behind," Wynn said.
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