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Making an Impact One Mission at a Time

by Don Rokusek, Program Director, Library Solutions

WESTCHESTER, IL, Jun 28, 2018Preface by Nader Qaimari, President, Follett School Solutions

Susy Siel, retired Wisconsin school librarian and founder of Freedom to Read, Inc., has achieved a significant milestone in her life's mission. Her mission? Move to the Bahamas and open libraries to help bring hope to the residents through literacy. And not the touristy part of the Bahamas. Rather, the dilapidated, poor part that visitors like me hardly ever see.

More than a year ago, Matt Follett introduced me to Susy and her non-profit organization. Over the years, Follett has sent shipments of books to Susy to help her fill her libraries. But just recently, my colleagues and I met with Susy to surprise her with another shipment of books. As a result of that meeting, we saw a way for us to make an even larger impact. We suggested Susy set up all her libraries as a system, and we offered to equip her with computers and Destiny® access gratis. To ensure a truly successful implementation, our Program Director of Library Solutions, Don Rokusek, stepped up to partner with Susy. 

I am honored and humbled to be part of an organization that gets involved in missions like Susy's. We hope you enjoy Don's account and images below, giving us a glimpse into the significance of, and reactions to, the very first library and computer center in Lower Bogue — all part of Susy Siel's remarkable mission.

Nader Qaimari
President, Follett School Solutions

The chairs had been set up in the grass under a tent across the street from their new one-room community library. It had rained so hard and so quickly that some people had puddles of water under their feet. But now the rain stopped just in time as they sat to hear local politicians, church leaders and educators speak about the impact the new library had already had – and it hadn’t even opened yet.

It had taken a few years for this community and Freedom to Read, Inc., to turn the shell of an old building into a new public library and computer center. Nothing happens quickly on the island, except perhaps hurricanes.

In 2011, Hurricane Irene ripped the roof off the primary school in a town a few miles away. That former school still sits in shambles as the children still attend school in a one-room building — the “temporary” location — seven years later.

While their location is beautiful, their lives are hard. People, young and old, face many challenges, and they have very few possessions. Therefore, it was no surprise that the grand opening of this library and computer center was a major community event. For the first time in Lower Bogue, they have free access to a library with books for all ages — and computers!

The event began about an hour before sunset. People came from all around to celebrate. Children sang and danced, leaders gave speeches and recognized the donations of time, supplies and money that built this library. The speeches went on for well over an hour.

Even though it was evening and dark outside, no one missed a beat when the power went out. Power outages are a regular occurrence here. Therefore, the celebration continued in the dark of the night. When the door of the library was opened, cell phone lights lit the room as kids scrambled to pick the books they wanted! 

I also visited other libraries that Susy supports. She supports a total of 13 libraries on Eleuthera and the neighboring Harbor Island. Follett has donated books and equipped six of those libraries with access to Destiny, a laptop, a barcode scanner and 10,000 barcode labels for each of those six libraries. 

It's impossible to adequately express how honored I was to help the Freedom to Read mission and to meet so many amazing people. I was very moved to see the reactions to the library opening and to realize the impact that will come from the donations of books, supplies and access to Destiny. Even in our day-to-day tasks, my Follett colleagues and I are cognizant that we are about much more than just books and technology. But it's awfully gratifying to actually be in the presence of the people we help every day.

Susy Siel is a retired school librarian and educator from the Kenosha Unified School District. She has been coming to this island regularly since she was a young girl back in the '60s.

She created Freedom to Read, Inc., a non-profit organization, to support literacy and free public access to information in several impoverished communities on Eleuthera and other nearby islands in The Bahamas. 

Their slogan is “Changing Lives One Book at a Time.” They work tirelessly against many odds to support kids and adults. Staffing the libraries continues to be a challenge due to inconsistent financial and cultural support in the communities.

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