With big eyes and bright smiles, they giggled and admired the shiny-covered, perfectly cornered books spread out on the table in the rotunda of the Allen County Courthouse.
After hearing from a number of local and state-level dignitaries, on hand to tell them to remember to read, the children jumped up and ran back to that table when it was finally their turn.
Their turn to take home a book of their own.
The books were donated and presented as part of a national initiative called “A Book of My Own” led by the Justice Project, an organization headed up by Noah benShea, an international best-selling author and consultant.
The program put about 300 books in area children’s hands, most of which would be handed out through the Court-Appointed Special Advocate program and Allen Superior Court Magistrate Lori Morgan.
Morgan said she hoped the children would know, through the presentation of the books, that there were adults in the community who cared about them.
“(I hope) it will inspire them to continue to read,” the magistrate said, “to do great things with their lives.”
Attending alongside Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry and County Commissioner Nelson Peters was state schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz, who has championed literacy programs since her election.
“A reader is not a person who knows how to read but a person who does read,” Ritz said.
As they selected their books, benShea and others made sure the children’s names were written inside. One young man wiped tears from his eyes as he shook benShea’s hand.
CASA volunteer Gary Stetler, who has been volunteering with the organization for about a year, smiled in the back of the room. The gifts of the books were awesome for the kids, he said.
“I had a rough time growing up as a kid, and ‘The Boxcar Children’ helped me,” he said, referring to a popular children’s book series that began in the mid-20th century.
The goals of the foundation – which are economic, environmental, social and educational – are spanned by literacy, benShea said.
The foundation hopes to make a difference for 30,000 children around the country, he said.
It was clear from the bright smile on Alexis Moore’s face, and the grins on her children’s faces, that the books were well received Thursday afternoon.
Moore said she was doing all she could to build a family of readers with her five children.
“Reading is like movies to us,” she said. “If you want to be successful, you have to read.”