Dr. Jacob Barber of Modesto braved shark-infested waters on a swim to raise funds to promote early literacy.
Richard Fisher of Riverbank used his woodworking skills to build little libraries giving books to children in crisis, and fashioned one that helped heal the emotional wounds of a tragedy.
Little Free Libraries are sprouting in Modesto in a possible sign that forces of good can still drive a popular trend.
The colorful libraries, some the size of a large birdhouse, are always open and have a simple sharing arrangement: Children or parents are invited to take a book and leave one for someone else. Since 2010, the movement started by the Little Free Library nonprofit in Wisconsin has created 40,000 book exchanges in all 50 states and more than 70 countries.
In Modesto, they have recently multiplied in neighborhoods, at school sites, medical clinics, churches and havens for troubled children. The newer ones have been supported by a campaign to improve early literacy among Stanislaus County children.
Barber swam the 1.6-mile Golden Gate Shark Fest in San Francisco in September to raise almost $2,000 for the Stanislaus Reads campaign. On Thursday, his 18-month-old daughter cut the ribbon on a free library in the waiting room of Greater Modesto Dental Implant and Oral Surgery Center on East Orangeburg Avenue, where Barber practices with two other oral surgeons.
Barber and a friend, Dr. Dean Brewer, said sharks were in the choppy water outside the Golden Gate Bridge where participants dove off a ferry for the swim to Sausalito. Barber finished the race in 39 minutes.
Barber said children in the waiting room can calm their anxieties by reading and can take a book home when the procedure is finished. “It is great to get the books into their hands,” said Barber, whose patients include one or two children a day.
He wants to encourage other medical offices, especially pediatric clinics, to create libraries.
Doctors have a trust relationship with patients and may influence parents to read to their young children, the simple practice that puts kids on the path to success in school.
Richard Fisher, a retired physician, has built nine libraries, including one in memory of public health physician Amanda Crews, who was killed in a July 2015 multiple homicide.
Fisher built the red schoolhouse library for a fundraising run renamed for Crews in April and held by the Valley Family Medicine Residency. Crews was a former Valley Medicine resident and teacher for the program.
She incorporated books into checkups for young children through Reach Out and Read, encouraging family members to read aloud together at home.
“We all suffered so much and so we wanted to turn something terrible into something good,” said Dr. Nancy Brown, a friend of Crews and president of the Stanislaus Health Foundation.
Fisher, a retired physician, also built libraries for Children’s Crisis Center homes, Family Health Care Medical Group in Modesto and pediatrician Lynette Grandison’s office in Ceres. His handiwork includes a neighborhood book exchange at Centenary United Methodist Church on Toyon Avenue and a 4-foot-high library in a foster-care waiting room at the Community Services Agency on Hackett Road.
When the library was delivered to the waiting room Friday, the foster kids took to the books right away, Fisher said.
“The kids can rummage through these books, find the ones they want and take them home,” he said. “If they come back, they can return them. If not, then they have books at home they can read with their parents.”
Fisher and Barber were inspired by Stanislaus Reads, which aims to have children reading at grade level by third grade. The program supplies books for starting a library, and each Little Free Library has a steward responsible for keeping the shelves stocked.
“Even though we seed-funded it, this is a grassroots movement,” said Amanda Hughes, program director for the nonprofit Stanislaus Community Foundation, which launched Stanislaus Reads last year in partnership with the county Office of Education and Children and Families Commission.
“Anyone can build one,” Hughes said. “We love that it is getting people involved with early literacy.”
In a county marked by poverty and unemployment, far too many third-graders are not reading well. After the third grade, schoolchildren need reading skills for learning what’s taught in the classroom. And those who fall behind are not likely to attend college or achieve success as adults.
Stanislaus Reads is trying to build a culture of literacy through parental engagement, better school attendance and summer enrichment programs.
The community foundation gave funds for at-risk students at the county Office of Education’s Stanislaus Military Academy to build 34 libraries for Stanislaus Reads pilot schools and groups that provide services to low-income families.
Ron Kunnen, a teacher at the Turlock academy, said the students take pride in making the libraries and delivering them to the community. “These students are developing cabinet-making skills where they pay attention to details, learn to make doors and work with plexiglass, and learn to fix mistakes,” Kunnen said. “When they see (libraries) in the community filled with books, they think, ‘Hey, I built that.’ ”
The students installed one outside the youth building at Marshall Park in Modesto; others were delivered to schools in Modesto, Turlock, Patterson and Waterford.
Brown said the Stanislaus Health Foundation plans to give free libraries to groups that work with low-income families, such as Boys & Girls Clubs of Stanislaus County. She would like to see them promote reading in less-affluent neighborhoods, which may not have good access to public libraries.
Deanna Villafona and Savannagh Martinez adopted an older library outside the home they rent on Stetson Avenue, north of West Orangeburg. Martinez said she first donated her older books to replenish the box and now buys books for less than $1 at garage sales.
Villafona said neighbors regularly exchange books, leaving children’s literature, reading for adults, mysteries, inspirational fare and cookbooks. She has never seen the library vandalized, she said.
“Especially since it is free, it helps the families” in the neighborhood, Martinez said.
People can buy the book exchange boxes at littlefreelibrary.org. for $285 to $525, with special offers as low as $165. The site says the cost of building your own can range from $5 to $150. Those who register their libraries have them posted on a map with pictures and the stories behind them. The Modesto map shows 13 libraries, but there are dozens more not registered.
Fisher believes the number will keep growing as residents grasp the concept that a culture of literacy will translate into opportunity, lower crime rates and better quality of life.
Reading to your children is so important, Fisher said. “You almost have to read to them when they are inside the womb.”
Ken Carlson: 209-578-2321
To learn more
More information about Stanislaus Reads is available at www.stanreads.org, including how to donate to support book exchange boxes. The Stanislaus Community Foundation, which oversees the campaign, can be reached at 209-576-1608.