Ten-year old MacKenzie Bigej held a book drive and collected more than 1,500 books for a Reading Mentors program

SUBMITTED PHOTO: AMY BIGEJ - MacKenzie Bigej recently held a book drive and collected more than 1,500 books for the Canby Center's Reading Mentors program.
Five years ago, MacKenzie Bigej was struggling to learn to read; now, at age 10, not only does she love to read, but she has dedicated herself to sharing that love with other kids. She recently held a book drive and collected more than 1,500 books for the Canby Center's Reading Mentors program.

When MacKenzie's parents recognized that their kindergartner was not making the connection between letters and sounds and how to put them together into words, they sought out early intervention.

"By first grade, Kenzie was in private tutoring and also receiving extra help at school with reading," said MacKenzie's mom Amy Bigej. "We knew that she would learn how to read eventually, but we were also worried about her self-esteem and how she would feel if she continued to get behind."

Recognizing the problem early and getting help did the trick for MacKenzie, who is now caught up with her classmates and loves to read. Knowing what it took to get where she is, Mackenzie wanted to give back to other children who may face similar struggles.

"My brother encouraged me to hold a book drive and give the books to other children so that they might develop a love of reading too," MacKenzie said.

SUBMITTED PHOTO: AMY BIGEJ - MacKenzie Bigej (center) receives congrats from Canby Center Executive Director Ray Keen (left) and Canby Center Reading Mentors Coordinator Kathleen Hanberg.So she went to work making signs to put on book bins and promoting her book drive at her elementary school, Ninety-One, at St. Patrick's Catholic Church and at Gwynn's Coffeehouse. The local book store, The Book Nook, offered to donate one children's book for every children's book purchased during the month of March. She was overwhelmed by the response from the community.

"My goal was to gather 500 books and in the end, I was able to donate over 1,500 books in just four weeks to the Canby Center's Reading Mentors program," MacKenzie said.

The Canby Center's Reading Mentors program currently exists at four elementary schools in Canby: Knight, Eccles, Lee and Trost; and the center hopes to expand it to Ninety-One and Carus next year. Within the program, volunteers read with certain individual students every week, and once a month, those students get to pick a book to keep.

Director of the Reading Mentors program Kathleen Hanberg sees the program as fulfilling part of the mission of the Canby Center: to inspire learning.

"It's so fun to see the kids choosing which book to take home—they are so excited," Hanberg said. "They are definitely inspired to learn."

After MacKenzie's successful book drive, she got to be there when Lee Elementary students in the program picked a book to take home from the lot she collected, and she was able to see first-hand the joy those books brought to kids.

"I am so inspired by Kenzie's leadership in initiating such a positive project," Hanberg said. "She loves to read and is sharing that joy with other kids. I also hope that other kids in our community will hear about this and realize that they can make a difference in the things that matter to them."

Kristen Wohlers
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