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First graders receive a book, T-shirt, and backpack full of 'treasures' at annual event.

DESIREE BERGSTROM/MADRAS PIONEER - Eighth grader Hadassah Hughes reads to a group of first graders. The Gift of Literacy event encourages young students to read, and provides them with a book, a T-shirt, and a backpack full of 'treasures.'
The annual Gift of Literacy event, put on by the Rotary Club of Jefferson County, sent every first grader in the county home with a book on Friday and hopefully a newly sparked interest in reading.

The event aims to not only be a day filled with fun and excitement for the young students, but also a day that prompts them to read and encourages them to think ahead about college options as they grow through the years in school.

"The two goals are a college-going culture and a love of literacy," said Melinda Boyle, the Rotarian in charge of the event who also works for the school district.

DESIREE BERGSTROM/MADRAS PIONEER - Madras High School 10th graders Josh Olney, front, and Mark Johnson read 'Ten Little Rabbits' to first graders during the annual Gift of Literacy event May 24.
This year's featured books included, "What's the Difference?: 40+ Pairs of the Seemingly Similar," "Mapping Sam," "Freddie Ramos Hears it All," "I Want a Real Bike! In Oregon," "John Deere That's Who," and "The Wolf Who Visited the Land of Fairytales."

The event tries to feature the Oregon Ag in the Classroom book each year, which this year is "John Deere That's Who." "I Want a Real Bike! In Oregon," was written by Eric A. Kimmel, the author who has been leading a station at the event for the last five years or so. During the session, he and the students write stories.

The students answer questions that the author asks the entire group and as they go, Kimmel types it out on the screen so the students in the audience can see. Following the event, Kimmel will send the students' stories to Boyle, who then distributes them to the classes.

This year, there were three other stations for the kids at the event, including small group reading where middle school and high school students volunteer to read to the first graders.

"We brought in older kids as role models to inspire our young kids," Boyle said.

The Museum at Warm Springs had a station, as well, and the final station was the college station in which stories featuring college were read and students made college banners.

Life-sized characters from some of the books are also present throughout the day to interact with students and add to the element of fun.

"It's probable the funnest day of the year," said Boyle, who has been with the event since it first began. "I want to treat the first graders like they have never been treated before, to just have the best day."

The original idea behind the event came when a principal moved to the school district from Springfield, where the local Rotary Club puts on a similar event.

"We kind of borrowed it from them," Boyle said.

Each year, for the past eight, the Rotary Club has gathered contributions from the community to put on the event. "It's all funded by local donors," she said, noting that the list is usually similar each year, as donors continue to support the event.

Each student receives a T-shirt to wear during the event — this year's were bright neon orange — as well as a drawstring backpack that has multiple treasures inside for the student. In the packs this year, students found one of the six books highlighted by event, pencils, a water bottle, coloring sheets, stickers and a few other items.

The students are already familiar with the books they will find in the pack by the time the event occurs. Before the event each year, the teacher of each class receives a package of all six books to read to the class and the students actually get to choose which book they want to receive in their bags from the event.

At the end of the event, the first graders get to have a barbecue lunch prepared by local Rotarians and the Jefferson County Fire Department, Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, Madras Police Department and staff from the Madras Aquatic Center come and interact with the students.

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