Volunteer delivers literacy by the truckload
More than half a dozen times a year, Cathy Craig loads boxes of books into her Toyota 4Runner and heads north out of Granby.
And not just a few books. Sometimes 40 boxes, with up to 30 books apiece.
She has repeated this ritual since 2009, when she read about a bake sale to raise funds for the library at Fort Washakie, Wyo. Craig attended the sale during one of her regular sightseeing trips to Wyoming, and so began her book-ferrying odyssey.
Among those she met at the sale was Robin Levin, director of library services at the Washakie School on the Wind River Reservation. It was then that Craig learned the library had no budget to buy books.
A volunteer for the Grand County Friends of the Library, she sprang into action.
Craig began culling books that failed to sell at the Grand County organization’s book sales, books destined for the dumpster or Good Will.
What compelled her, she said, was “getting those books out there in the hands of the people who need them. … For me it was a no-brainer.”
Last week, Craig’s good works returned to her in the form of a Community Supporter Award from the Wyoming Library Association, presented at a banquet in Casper on Sept. 25.
“Before a visit, Cathy will call to ask what types of books we need for Reservation adults, children and the library,” Levin wrote in her nomination of Craig for the award. “No financial reimbursement … no desire for accolades … Cathy comes to Fremont County sometimes three times per month,” Levin’s nomination continues. “It is all we can do to keep up with her ‘special deliveries’.”
Indeed, Craig is so unassuming about her efforts that she repeatedly said during an interview the story is not about her, but rather about the good that can be accomplished through volunteering.
“It’s easy to volunteer,” she said. “It’s not about me, it’s just about what anyone can do.”
“She just doesn’t quit,” Levin said during a phone conversation, adding that Craig delivers videos, DVDs, books on tape and large print books as well as regular books.
Checking it out
What started as an effort focused on the Fort Washakie School library began to spread across the reservation and beyond.
Levin said the books Craig delivers have been distributed to Fort Washakie Early Intervention Children’s Services, Shoshone and Arapaho Head Start, Warm Valley Senior Center, Fremont County Friends of the Library, other schools and even the local jail.
“We’ve pretty much saturated them with books,” Craig said, flashing a selfless smile.
During her visits to the reservation, Craig has had the opportunity to directly experience the impact of her efforts. A community that once had only the slimmest access to books now rallies around its literary resources.
“The big event of the day,” she said, “was [middle school] kids getting their library cards. … They were so proud.”
She said about 400 books are checked out of the school library each day now.
“She goes out and seeks opportunities,” Levin said of Craig’s relentless search for library materials. Sometimes Craig fills her 4Runner, delivers a load and returns immediately to Granby, all without compensation or recognition, Levin said.
Among the more notable impacts, Levin said, was a school powwow in May when families came and gathered reading materials at the school.
“We probably saw 3,000 items go home with families,” she said.
And that is particularly important because of the uneasy 100-year history between public schools and Native Americans in Wyoming that caused “deep trauma” still felt to this day.
The book distribution, Levin said, “helps to promote positive relationships between the school and families.”
And she, for one, wholeheartedly appreciates Craig’s efforts.
“I cannot report exactly how many thousands of books and media Cathy Craig has brought to us,” Levin wrote in her nomination, “but her devotion to Native American literacy and outreach is exemplary.”
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