When you combine a children’s literacy initiative with a hometown basketball game, everyone wins. That was certainly the spirit in the air during the Books for Buckets event, led by Rome Floyd County Commission on Children and Youth and hosted by Model High School on Tuesday, Feb. 8.

LaDonna Collins, Executive Director of Rome Floyd County Commission on Children and Youth (RFCCCY), beamed as she explained that the purpose of Books for Buckets is to support the Commission’s child literacy initiative, Books, Barbers and Beauticians, which creates book nooks for children and youth at local barber shops and salons where they are invited to read in an environment outside of school. Attendees to the night’s basketball games were encouraged to bring a new or gently used children’s book to donate.

The community showed up to support the players and the children and youth of Rome and Floyd County with not only their school colors and stadium chairs, but with books under their arms as well.

As the crowd grew, so did the book-count. By the start of the last of three games scheduled that night, the Commission had already received over 500 books to be read and kept by countless blossoming young minds in the coming months.

The Commission is on a mission to support children’s growth and success in schools. “One of our strategies to improve school success is to focus on childhood literacy in the community,” said Collins. “If that can be done while they are doing something routine like getting their hair cut, it’s a win.”

Collins explained that reading to a barber or a beautician with whom they are familiar and see regularly may feel safer and more relaxed than reading at school, as there is less fear of being critiqued.

Collins explained that Books, Barbers and Beauticians is an incentive program. The more books the child reads from the book nook, the more incentives they earn. Incentives range from tasty treats to gift cards to free hair care services.

“It’s extrinsic motivation,” she said, “but it works.”

She went on to add that a haircut is an example of a nonacademic barrier, and that children perform better in school when they are confident in their appearance. Earning a haircut or hairstyling appointment may be just the incentive a child needs to encourage them to pick up a book and practice reading.

Model High School senior and cheerleader, Parker Locklear, has been rooting emphatically for this event for weeks alongside the rest of her fellow cheerleaders and coach. She explained that they designed and posted flyers and banners in the Model schools to make sure students and families in the community were aware of the event and how they could participate.

Collins added, “Our ultimate goal is for children in our communities to have in-home libraries.” The books collected at Books for Buckets will go a long way towards reaching that goal, but there’s more to come.

Collins said book drives for this initiative are currently underway at Model Elementary and Cave Spring Elementary schools, with homeroom classes competing with gusto to win the first place pizza party provided by the Commission.

Without a doubt, Collins and her team are grateful for the support of Model schools and the broader community.  RFCCCY board members mingled in the entry to the Model High gym and watched with appreciation as people arrived and continued to fill up the larger-than-life book crate with the words and stories that will impact the children the Commission strives to encourage.

Joel Hanner, RFCCCY board member, said the minute the crate was set up and ready, people began dropping in books by the armful.

Pepperell High School boys’ basketball coach, Zach Mendence, alone, donated a whopping 125 books for children.

Board member, Stephanie McElhone, said, “This is the first time we’ve collected books in this capacity,” and added that the result of Books for Buckets will pour good things into an existing program for children in the community.

Collins expressed that this would not have been possible without the support of the Model High School basketball and cheerleading coaches and teams, and during an extremely busy week for them, no less. Model High boys’ basketball coach, Jacob Travis, cited this as an intense week of home-games to finish out Model’s regular season before heading into tournament, and what a jump-start with an event such as this.

Travis said that his players have donated books in support, and highlighted their cheerleaders‘ work in getting the word out amongst the students.  In sincere gratitude, the players, cheerleaders and coaches were provided a pre-game Chick-Fil-A dinner, courtesy of RFCCCY, and complete with an appearance from the Chick-Fil-A Cow, who made its first public appearance in two years.

Additionally, Collins presented the coaches and teams with a plaque of appreciation during a break in the games.

 The enormous book crate was fully filled by the end of the night; filled with fairytales and familiar rhymes, stories that will expand and inspire young minds. When a partnership is fueled by true compassion and relentless dedication, it truly is a win-win.