A group of teens in Vernon Hills is looking for your unused and unwanted books.
The park district has revived the “summer of service” concept, and about 20 teens in the summer camp program are trying to collect 10,000 books for the nonprofit Bernie’s Book Bank by July 21.
Before the Central Lake YMCA went out of business in late 2012, it offered summer camps that focused on teaching youth about community service, primarily by organizing hands-on activities.
The program known as “Summer of Service” was not continued in 2013 after the Vernon Hills Park District bought and took over the YMCA’s operations. Park officials said there was a learning curve after taking over, and not everything could be maintained right away.
But after a full year running the newly named Lakeview Fitness Center, park officials restored the program. Campers range in age from 10 to 14 years old.
“The intent of this camp is to promote a sense of pride in your community, and see if we can enhance the quality of a traditional summer camp,” said Marty Walsh, recreation supervisor for the park district. “Maybe in the future they’ll take it upon themselves to do volunteer work without being asked or told to by parents, friends or teachers.”
Based in Lake Forest, Bernie’s Book Bank collects and redistributes new or gently used books to low-income families and homes with at-risk children throughout the Chicago area.
Walsh said finding nonprofits willing to host 20 or more children was difficult. Through a personal conversation, Walsh learned of Bernie’s Book Bank and dreamed up the service project.
“It’s the best of all worlds because the kids are learning while they help other kids,” Walsh said. “Our campers were scratching their heads when we told them that some kids don’t have a favorite book because they don’t get to see or buy books.”
Summer of Service spans eight weeks, and so far Walsh said the campers have brainstormed how to collect books, created fliers to distribute, and even made a video that’s now posted on the park district’s website.
Walsh said a few of the teens marched in the July Fourth parade and gave away hundreds of fliers.
Billboards and plastic tubs have been set up at the Lakeview Fitness Center, 700 Lakeview Parkway, the Sullivan Center, 635 N. Aspen Drive, and at the Larry Laschen Center, 294 Evergreen Drive.
The group of campers was set to visit Bernie’s Book Bank on July 14 and 28 to help sort books in the warehouse so deliveries could be sent. All the books collected in Vernon Hills will be taken during the July 28 trip.
“I like how we’re helping people because it makes my heart feel warm,” said camper Stephanie Chang.
Though Walsh doesn’t know how many books have been collected so far, there are signs of success. At least one, if not two, containers are full at each of the three park district centers.
Joanne DiGuido has lived in Vernon Hills for 17 years, but is moving to Westmont to downsize now that her kids are adults. DiGuido is yet another example of the campers’ success.
Walsh took a van to DiGuido’s house on July 10 to collect 228 books the family no longer needed. DiGuido said she didn’t want the books to go to waste, and was excited to learn about the local book drive.
The donated books ranged from Star Wars to Dr. Seuss to stories of dinosaurs, as well as dictionaries, encyclopedias and self help books on parenting.
“It’s two-fold because I’m helping children throughout this region via Bernie’s Book Bank, and I’m also helping the kids with their goal,” DiGuido said.
The book drive is just one of the service project campers have worked on this summer. They also visited Save My Starving Children in Libertyville and helped pack food supplements for needy people in third-world countries.
Small groups of campers also worked to improve landscaping outside the Lakeview Fitness Center.
“This building belongs to everyone, and making it look nice has been fun,” said Maddie Paradis.
Camper Samantha Michals, along with Paradis and a few others, is on the park district’s swim team.
“We do a thing called ‘dry land’ and that’s when we run around the building for general exercise and endurance,” Michals said. “Every time we’re doing dry land I’m going to see all the new plants and feel proud.”