A group of elementary school kids in Grand Coteau are picking up paint brushes to brighten the lives of their neighbors as part of a community service-based book club.
About 85 students at the all-girl Academy of the Sacred Heart gathered in the school's auditorium recently where they huddled around Alysson Foti Bourque, an academy parent and children’s book author. They were there to read a book, discuss its message and act on what they learned.
The students’ community service project is based off the children’s book “Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood” by Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell, which chronicles the conception and creation of a large-scale mural project in San Diego, California.
In coming weeks, Bourque said, the students in pre-K and elementary grades will paint portraits of suns, stars and create other works of art to deliver to nursing homes and other community gathering places around Grand Coteau.
She said the project is designed to"brighten their walls and just leave a happy, positive reminder that there are people around them that care and that are full of things that are beautiful.”
Sacred Heart’s project is its second with the Action Book Club, an initiative that pairs reading with community engagement. In October, the students donated 100 pairs of socks to the Faith House and Catholic Services of Acadiana.
Action Book Club is part of Little Free Library, a nonprofit organization that supports the construction and maintenance of miniature book exchange hubs across 70 countries worldwide.
Nestled in neighborhoods, business and schools around the world, these libraries take the form of miniature house-like structures mounted on a wooden post in front of schools, residential areas and businesses.
The libraries are maintained by stewards, or volunteers who are responsible for constructing, curating and maintaining the book collections.
According to the organization’s website, more than 50,000 catalogued libraries exist worldwide, with more than 130 of them existing in Louisiana. Out of those little free libraries, 28 are stationed around Lafayette, Carencro and Youngsville.
Margaret Aldrich, head of media and programming from Little Free Library, said Action Book Club is designed to reach communities that do not have libraries, while also fortifying communities that contain the story stations.
“Little Free Library started the Action Book Club as a way for people to both enjoy books together and do something great in their community,” Aldrich said. "We have a large movement around little free libraries, and we see our … stewards doing great things every day.”
Little Free Library provides stewards with book recommendations for all ages that fall under the category of “good neighbors.” The organization also provides community activity ideas, recommended discussion questions and access to a Facebook community, where reading group leaders can share their experiences.
Bourque, who maintains a micro library at Academy of the Sacred Heart, said she signed the school up for the Action Book Club as soon as the applications were available. The academy’s sock collection was one of two pilot programs in the U.S., with the other program stationed in Minnesota.
The Action Book Club now comprises groups formed by more than 200 organizations from around the U.S., four of which are located in Louisiana. Book clubs have also started in Nigeria, Canada and the Philippines.
Based on the first service project’s success, the school plans to host a book club every two-to-three months, Bourque said, as well as clubs suited for older academy students.
“By combining literature and talking about issues in the book that have to deal with helping out the community, I think (the club) pairs well with doing a service project,” she said. “It’s kind of a start action that becomes a project we can fulfill.”
Academy of the Sacred Heart is a pre-K through grade 12 private college-preparatory girls’ boarding school; it also comprises Berchmans Academy of the Sacred Heart, which is an all-boys’ school.