Definition of goodwill: Women’s Club buys dictionaries for 3rd graders

Karen Campbell looks at one of the dictionaries the Berrien County GOP Women’s Club hands out to third-graders. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

Karen Campbell looks at one of the dictionaries the Berrien County GOP Women’s Club hands out to third-graders. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BERRIEN COUNTY — Mark Twain once said, “The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.”

With a lot of schools issuing the use of electronic devices in their curriculums, one educational club is trying to put books back into the hands of students.

For the past six years, the Berrien County GOP Women’s Club has purchased hundreds of dictionaries and handed them out to third-graders throughout the county.

Karen Campbell, club president, said they got the idea when the group discovered the Barbara Bush Foundation was a sponsor of The Dictionary Project. The nonprofit organization’s aim is to give every third grade student a dictionary of their own.

Up to that point, the 40-member club had been purchasing one book a year to donate to local libraries. In their search for new books to buy and donate, Campbell said club members came across The Dictionary Project and wanted to be part of the movement.

“We decided to give it a try,” she said. “The first school we went to was in Eau Claire and the reaction we got from the kids when they get their very own books was so unique to us. So, we decided to do it again and expand it.”

The club has a limited budget that is only generated from membership fees.

However, there has been some help with donations from time to time. Each year the club is able to buy about 120 dictionaries. Because of a large donation last year, the club was able to hand out 240.

“We were shocked they were so excited about it,” Campbell said. “When we went to Bridgman, a teacher said the third-grade level is when they begin using the dictionary. The following year, (Bridgman) got a grant to buy those books for themselves.”

Virginia Bedunah, chairwoman for the club’s literacy committee, said when they order dictionaries they choose from several iterations.

A look inside one of the dictionaries being donated. Last year the club handed out 240 dictionaries. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

A look inside one of the dictionaries being donated. Last year the club handed out 240 dictionaries. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

The dictionary the club buys is not only a dictionary, but a gazetteer. Each dictionary they hand out in Berrien County includes the Declaration of Independence, biographies of presidents and a geographical index of the 50 states.

When Bedunah goes to present the dictionaries to students in September during National Reading Month, she teaches them how to use one before testing them on finding a word and its correct pronunciation.

“We look up other things so they can become informed of what’s in the book,” she said. “Generally, they are so happy to get a book of their very own. Some of these students have never had a book in their house.”

Since the program began the club has handed out dictionaries to third graders in Eau Claire, Bridgman, Brandywine, Buchanan River Valley, Watervliet and a handful of parochial schools. Whenever the club has extras left over, Bedunah said they give them to the Benton Harbor Street Ministry for those trying to get their GED.

This June, the club will begin ordering dictionaries after it decides where to hand them out in September. What keeps Bedunah coming back are the students.

“They are just so enthusiastic about it, so eager to find out what’s in the book,” she said. “They don’t realize all the information you can find in the dictionary. And they’re so thankful for it. There’s nothing better than seeing them get their own book.”

Those interested in the project or wish to donate to the cause can email Bedunah at bedunahv@comcast.net.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on April 19, 2016)

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