Book booster

April 26, 2004|by SCOTT BUTKI

HAGERSTOWN - Armed with his own business card, mission statement and an Internet site for a book swap he is coordinating, Alex Smelgus has impressed government officials with his goal, ambition and organizational skills.

Even more impressive, they say, is that Alex is 10 years old.

Alex, a fifth-grader at Emma K. Doub School for the Integrated Arts and Technology, is organizing the Washington County Children's Book Day & Swap.

Because of that, Alex has met with the Hagerstown City Council, Washington County Public Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan and Del. Robert McKee, R- Washington, among others.


"He is a very impressive young fellow," McKee said Wednesday.

A presentation he made to the City Council at its April 6 meeting was very thorough, Mayor William M. Breichner said Wednesday.

"I wish all presentations were that well done," he said. "You just can't help but admire his tenacity. He is well-versed and well-prepared and had a great personality."

Breichner said he looks forward to one day seeing Alex graduate from college at the top of his class.

"It feels good, talking to all these big people," Alex said Wednesday after handing over a business card that identifies him as "event coordinator."

Alex came up with the idea of a book swap as a service project he could do to meet a class requirement.

"I know a lot of kids who like to read. But they can't get their hands on books. This will help them get their hands on books," Alex said.

He said he is hoping to help those students whose "parents don't support their interest in reading and won't buy them books or anything."

He met with the manager of a nursery school and city officials, who showed him possible sites for the event.

City officials working with him were impressed by how organized he was, Hagerstown spokeswoman Karen Giffin said Wednesday.

Alex has placed buckets where people can drop off books at 20 locations, mostly in schools, he said. The list of dropoff sites can be found at on the Web.

Elementary and middle school students who attend the May 8 event at the Frostburg State University Community Room in Hagerstown, will be able to get free books and refreshments and hear storytellers, he said.

Alex said his goal, which he thinks will be met, is for 5,000 to 6,000 books to be dropped off and swapped.

He was less confident that the goal of raising $1,000 to $1,500 will be met in time, he said.

The money would help buy 100 copies of "Chicken Soup for the Kid's Soul."

He chose that book because "it teaches values and honesty and it is not boring to read," he said.

His principal, Sonya Barnes, said everyone at the school is proud of the work Alex is doing. He is a good, hard worker, she said.

The event is sponsored by Partners in Literacy and the City of Hagerstown.

Alex said he intends to make the book swap an annual event. He would be involved with it at least until he reaches high school, when his younger brother can take over, he said.

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