By Mary Helen Kelly
Kissy Dabbs recalls when books overtook her Sandy Springs home after a book drive for the Mini Libraries program at Heards Ferry Elementary last year.
“We had our entire dining room and foyer just full. We could lose children in these books!” she said.
Dabbs and her two daughters provide the brains and a large part of the energy behind the Mini Libraries program sponsored by the Sandy Springs Education Force.
The program, which focuses on supplying books to children who otherwise might not have access to them, is active at three elementary schools in Sandy Springs — Ison Springs Elementary, Dunwoody Springs Elementary and Lake Forest Elementary. In the last year, Dabbs said the Mini Libraries have provided over 14,000 donated books to children at these elementary schools.
“Our big goal is just [to get] books in hands,” Dabbs said.
Through the Mini Libraries, kids are invited to take two books a day that they never have to return. Kids get to keep the books themselves, share them with their friends or form libraries of their own.
The idea for the Mini Libraries began when Liza, 9, and Clara, 10, decided to start a library in their basement for kids in the neighborhood. Dabbs, who had always fostered a love of reading in her daughters, full heartedly supported the idea.
The girls soon realized that they lived in a neighborhood where books were easy to come by. About two months after opening their “Sisters Library,” they realized that more books were being donated to the library than were being checked out.
Dabbs reached out to education advocacy groups in the area to see where these books might be better used. The Sandy Springs Education Force responded to Dabbs and extended their helping hand in the process of putting these books into schools for other children to enjoy.
“They really gave us an infrastructure and support which I didn’t expect,” Dabbs said.
The nonprofit purchased magazine holders on Craigslist that were made over by kid volunteers to house the books. Dabbs describes the Mini Libraries program as a “no-overhead institution” based on volunteers and donations. Cardboard boxes are the only other supply the nonprofit purchases for the libraries program.
Irene Schweiger, executive director of the nonprofit, said, “These may be the first and or only books these children have for themselves. Putting these books in the hands of these needy students is a first step in encouraging a love of reading and furthering their success in school and life.”
The libraries are stocked solely from donations, all of which are sorted and distributed from the home of Dabbs.
“People drop off books all the time, which is fantastic. And it’s nice because they know where they’re going. They’re staying in this community, and they’re going to be read by the kids who later go to junior high with them, or the kids who they play soccer with, or the kids who we see at Kroger,” Dabbs said.
Sandy Springs’ kids are the ones doing most of the sorting of these books at the “sorting parties” Dabbs hosts at her home. Clara and Liza both recall special memories from the big sorts they have at their house.
Liza playfully said sorting was her least favorite part because she can hardly stand to be surrounded by so many books and not be allowed to read them all. Clara said all the “hard labor” of sorting was worth it when she sees the impact these books are having in other kids’ lives.
During sorts, books are categorized to ensure they are being used in the most effective ways at schools. The donations are not only used to stock the libraries, but are also distributed to teachers at schools when needed and available.
Teachers have been able to make requests through the program, and if Dabbs has the books available, they are given directly to the teachers. Dabbs works with curriculum support teams at schools to find and fill the needs of each school.
Whether it is 10 copies of “Stuart Little” a teacher wants to use for a particular lesson or a collection of books on math and science, Dabbs says they cater to as many requests as possible. She says giving the teachers the books is “just another route to the same kids.”
Kerstin Long, the math instructional coach at High Point Elementary, recently worked with Dabbs. This summer Long mentored a group of fifth graders at High Point in a math and technology camp. The Mini Libraries provided biographies of scientists, explorers, environmentalists and humanitarians who were pioneers in the technological world for these students to study.
“For me, the best part of our experience was seeing kids realize everyday people like them can do amazing things. It was wonderful to watch kids connecting to the world around them and coming to believe that they really do have the potential to make a difference,” Long said.
Dabbs says a long-term goal for the project is for it to be entirely “kid-run” from start to finish. She hopes to get high school students involved in stocking the libraries at schools and making it a program where kids are serving other kids in the community.
“We are one city and one community, and even though we look very different from street to street, it doesn’t have to be that way. For the kids, they could care less. All they really want to do is share books,” Dabbs said.
If you are interested in volunteering, contact Kissy Dabbs at firstname.lastname@example.org.