Local Rotarians find meaning in dictionary giveaway

September 25, 2005|By JOHN LEAGUE

One of the great things about being publisher is that every couple of months, I get to say whatever I want in this space.

I usually try to write about the newspaper or news gathering in general. But I'm going to go in a different direction this week and instead write about a project that I got involved with through a local service club.

I am president of the Hagerstown Rotary Club. It is one of those community positions that is both an honor and a lot of work.

Our Rotary Club is one of five in Washington County, and one of dozens in Rotary District 7350, a district that includes West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle, Western Maryland and Central Pennsylvania north to State College, Pa.


Jack Murray, District 7350 governor, decided that one of his goals for the Rotary year was to provide a free dictionary to every third-grader in our geographically large Rotary district.

Rotary has a history of promoting literacy, and a dictionary is a valuable weapon in that fight.

So the five Rotary presidents in Washington County began meeting in late spring to decide how we were going to accomplish the local end of his charge to us.

Each club needed to cover its share of the cost. We also needed the school system's support to provide contact information for every public and private school in the county. Then we needed to figure out a way to get the dictionaries to as many third-graders as we could.

Our group of Washington County Rotary presidents, with a lot of help from our assistant district governor, split up the duties and went about planning and organizing the event.

Washington County school officials jumped behind the idea. They quickly provided all of the information we needed to distribute the dictionaries, such as lists of elementary schools, contacts and phone numbers. They also provided contact information on private schools.

Tony Dahbura of Hub Labels in Hagers-town provided, at no charge, the labels that went inside each dictionary. The label said the dictionaries were provided by Washington County Rotary Clubs, and also included Rotary's four-way test, which are some simple principals we should all try to live by.

Guy Altieri of Hagerstown Community College came up with the idea of including a bookmark for each dictionary. It promoted reading, and it promoted the importance of education. HCC provided the bookmark.

Susan Snyder, my administrative assistant, logged many phone calls to private schools seeking support for the project.

In mid-September, dozens of Rotarians from the Hagerstown, Sunrise, Long Meadow, Hancock and Williamsport clubs went to Washington County classrooms to personally deliver the dictionaries to third-graders - about 2,000 dictionaries in all. We also tried to deliver the message that reading and writing are the foundation of a successful and rewarding life.

Preoccupied with the nuts and bolts of organizing, I didn't realize the importance of the project until my work was over.

Some of these students, I learned, did not have dictionaries in their homes. (Neither one of my parents was a college graduate, but we had more dictionaries in our house than we had appliances.) A few reacted as if we'd just unlocked a stubborn door for them. And a few, I'm afraid, didn't know what a dictionary was.

I was surprised, if not shocked, by that, but the educators weren't. They're on the front lines every day, sometimes with the odds against them.

This task began for me as a way of supporting our district governor. I also thought it was a good idea. By the time it was over, I saw that it had taken on a much greater importance. It gave business leaders in our community the opportunity to meet hundreds of elementary school students and talk to them about the importance of reading and writing.

Their presence sent a message to the students that directly connected literacy and success. And best of all, the students got a valuable tool they can use.

Now that is how I define success.

John League is editor and publisher of The Herald-Mail. He may be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 7073, or by e-mail at

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