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December 6, 2005 > Rotarians give a legacy of literacy

Rotarians give a legacy of literacy

On a bright Friday morning at Steven Millard School in Fremont, a steady stream of parents and children gathered as students prepared to begin another school day. Members of the Fremont Sunrise Rotary club were among the throng carrying boxes filled with an unusual gift for all third graders, part of a nation-wide project called the "Dictionary Project." This was the first of many visits to other elementary schools in the area.

"Words have power," wrote Colista Moore, a columnist for the Rogue River Press, in her introduction to "A Student's Dictionary." An avid supporter of the Dictionary Project prior to her death this year, she often made games out of words for her column. That power would be realized with the distribution of 95 dictionaries at Millard School followed by an afternoon visit to Azevada School and, in succeeding weeks, scheduled stops at Blacow, Brier, Durham and Mattos elementary schools. In Millard classrooms, children cast wondrous glances among themselves as Rotarians passed out these unexpected presents and asked each to put their name on the inside cover of their very own book under the Rotary symbol and an accompanying statement of the Rotary "Four-way test" - "Of the things we think, say or do: Is it the Truth? Is it Fair to all concerned? Will it build Goodwill and Better Friendships? Will it be Beneficial to all concerned?"

Millard Principal Mary Anne Kolda looked on as Sunrise Rotary President Gerri Hussey passed out dictionaries and led students in a third-grade class through practice using their new books to look up words and definitions such as the word, "happiness." Throughout the day, as groups of new dictionary owners learned a bit about Rotary and the practical benefits of dictionaries, response was enthusiastic. "Can I pass this on to my children?" asked one wide-eyed student while another wanted confirmation that his new possession was really his for life.

These Fremont students join over 3 million others who have received a dictionary from volunteers throughout the United States. During the 2004-2005 school year, over 1 million dictionaries have been distributed. The Dictionary Project's goal is to assist all students to complete the school year as good writers, active readers and creative thinkers by providing the students with their own personal dictionaries. This powerful reference tool is critical for solving problems and increasing a student's vocabulary.

The idea for the Dictionary Project began in 1992 when Annie Plummer of Savannah, Georgia gave 50 dictionaries to children who attended a school close to her home. In her lifetime she raised the money to buy 17,000 dictionaries for children in Savannah, Georgia. The Dictionary Project, a nonprofit organization, has expanded to provide dictionaries to all of the third grade students in South Carolina every year. In 1997, the mission expanded to include all students in the United States.

The program has been adopted and refined by civic organizations all over the country. Groups such as Rotary Clubs, Kiwanis Clubs, Granges, Lions Clubs, The Republican Federation of Women and The Jewish Council of Women have implemented The Dictionary Project where they live. Anyone can participate in this project by sponsoring a program to provide dictionaries to children in their community. The dictionaries are a gift for the children to keep.

Sunrise Rotary has pledged its support of the Dictionary Project and invites other organizations to join their efforts. In a letter to parents of the lucky third grade recipients, she states, "A dictionary is perhaps the first and most powerful reference tool a child should own."

This year, Fremont Sunrise Rotary has pledged to give the power of words to 560 young citizens. If literacy is a path to independence and freedom, local Rotarians are paving that path with one of the fundamental tools of expanded and effective communication. The Tri-City Voice newspaper, whose business is communication, applauds this effort.

For more information about the Dictionary Project, visit: or call (843) 388-8375. The California Dictionary Project can be found at or by calling (415) 693-2136. Fremont Sunrise Rotary Club - (510) 471-0513 - meets on Wednesdays at 7:15 a.m. at Original Pancake House in Fremont.

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