By Sara Busse
From high school football games, to pets, to Happy Meals, the Boone County chapter of Read Aloud is an example of “everything goes” when it comes to promoting reading in southern West Virginia. Chapter President Jennifer Griffith leads the charge with enthusiasm, creativity, generosity and passion.
The Boone group has come up with many new and innovative ways to boost reading, and, in turn, Read Aloud West Virginia, throughout their county. And while Griffith is the epitome of that iconic battery bunny, she realized she couldn’t do it all alone.
“We have a board!” Griffith explained proudly. “It took a while—but we have legislators, sheriffs, a group of ten that’s incredible.” Along with the school coordinators at Brookview, Madison, Sherman, Whitesville and Ramage elementary schools and under Griffith’s untiring leadership, the organization has initiated several exciting programs.
Two board members, brother-and-sister team Chris Connolly and Katie Foster, are co-owners of the McDonald’s restaurant in Madison. It’s no surprise that the omnipresent Griffith is connected to them in other parts of her busy life: her husband coached football with Chris, and she is Katie’s daughter’s piano teacher.
“Chris called me and said he wanted to do something where he gave out free items on a Saturday at McDonald’s to promote reading,” Griffith said. “We held a book drive and the kids got free happy meals, ice cream coupons, and we went on Facebook live from the restaurant. School was just starting so the timing was perfect.” Children’s books by renowned national author Laura Numeroff were featured in the Happy Meals that month, creating a perfect connection. All donated books were distributed to the elementary schools in the county.
Griffith has hosted book drives at the local Boone County high schools during football games. She’s encouraged many partnerships, including working with the coaches and Girl Scouts.
“It’s fun times for groups to help! We’ve just been really blessed with folks who see our efforts and donate,” Griffith explained.
Combining her social media savvy and her love of reading comes naturally to Griffith. Add kids and cuddly animals, and Read To Your Pet Day is born.
“It’s one of the most popular days for us. The sheriff read to his pet that day. I told my coordinators, ‘This is gonna be fun! It’s gonna be OUR day!’” Griffith enthused. “We always do it in November, and it’s fun for everybody.”
Teachers and coordinators send out information about Read To Your Pet Day, and on the designated day, the magic happens.
“That evening, those parents start taking pictures of the kids reading to their pets,” Griffith said. She posts all of the photos on their Facebook page.
“I’m uploading like a maniac. It’s the craziest night for Read Aloud. We had a horse this year! We’ve had ferrets, cats, dogs…a wide array of pets,” Griffith said. “But the main thing is this: the parents are involved. It’s fun for the child because Grandma, Grandpa, Mom and Dad are watching Billy and Sally read—it’s a family moment.”
Reading to horses, books at McDonald’s and football game book drives. All the norm for the out-of-the-ordinary Boone County Read Aloud organization.
Sara Busse is a long-time Charleston resident and community volunteer.
Image: Chris Connolly, a Boone County Chapter Board Member, poses with two McDonald’s Book Drive participants.