Expanding their horizons

Mar. 22, 2014 @ 08:11 PM

On Thursday, 22 children in foster care received bags of books for them to read and enjoy.

The books were collected through a collaboration that involved Boy Scouts, a child advocate and the Vance County Department of Social Services.

Levi Shelton planned and organized the drive as his Eagle Scout project. Guardian ad litem Rachel Godfrey suggested the idea, of gathering books and donating them to foster children. In her role as an advocate for children who are under juvenile court jurisdiction, she has seen a need for books in some of the homes she visits.

By a roundabout route, Godfrey was put in touch with Beth Shelton, Levi’s mother who is a teacher assistant at Rollins Elementary School. Through Beth, she met Levi and his father, Charles Shelton, leader for Troop 691.

Charles invited Godfrey to a meeting of the troop to talk about the need for books.

“They were enthusiastic about it,” Godfrey said. “Levi just took it and ran.”

To assist with the project,

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Levi recruited Trey Williams, Christopher Johnson, José Malinab and Daniel Hight, also members of Boy Scout Troop 691.

“The four downtown churches helped,” Levi said, “Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist and Episcopal. I made speeches there and printed flyers. I went to Perry Library. We also got financial donations.”

Crystal Jones, a social worker with Child Protective Services at the Department of Social Services, arranged to have children and foster parents meet the Scouts so the books could be distributed.

“Their goal was to collect 250 books,” Godfrey said. “They got over 2,000. I was amazed at the response.”

Each child received a red tote bag filled with books. Each bag was decorated with a custom-designed logo, “Spend Time And Read (S.T.A.R.)” .

The children immediately opened their tote bags and began examining the books. Asked what he was going to do with his books, one six-year-old said, “Read it.” To get started, he pulled a book about animals out of his tote bag.

James Dunston, a foster parent for three children, said the books will help them.

“They like to read, but they have some learning disabilities,” he said.

Books were donated by individuals as well as by churches. Tommy and Carolyn Farmer; Steve, Lisa, and Lexi Simmons; Pat Frazier; David and Jennifer Johnson; Kathleen Burwell; Michael and Ginny Atkinson; and Kitty and Donnie Barnes helped the Scouts reach and surpass their goal.

The Scouts were there in uniform, complete with sashes displaying their merit badges.

“I think I have 35,” Levi said.

That number of merit badges is more than enough for Eagle Scout, but he still lacks two specific requirements, he said.

“I’ve had these boys since Cub Scouts,” Troop Leader Charles Shelton said. “They’re committed.”

Contact the writer at dirvine@hendersondispatch.com.