It was in 2010, when Books for Life, an educational branch of Trees for Life, held a book drive in Kansas. Dillons grocery stores accepted donations of gently used children’s picture books. The books would be shared with needy children around the world.
I had just been interviewed about the book drive on TV at noon. When I got back to the office, the phone rang. A woman’s voice introduced herself as Sheila Grayson from Dodge City. “I heard about your book drive, and I thought you’d like to know about the project my husband, David Grayson, has been doing,” she said. “He’s promoting childhood literacy right here in Kansas.”
I thought to myself, I’ve never heard of that kind of cowboy before!
David Grayson presenting a bookcase and bag of books to a young student
She told me that David was inspired when he heard about an organization in the eastern U.S. that provided books and bookcases to children. So, he started building bookcases for children in Dodge City. Together, Sheila and David founded the Dodge City Bookcase Project.
David had also inspired many others in the community to join in this mission. Students in Dodge City High School’s carpentry class, local firefighters, and several other volunteers all pitched in to help him assemble the bookcases.
David and Sheila Grayson showing books donated through Trees for Life
“We’re always looking for donated books to give the children along with the bookcases,” Sheila explained. “Do you think you could help us?”
I said we’d love to. What I didn’t say was that I was thrilled to partner with a modern-day cowboy in his quest to conquer the frontier of childhood literacy.
In the book drive, the people of Kansas were very generous. We were able to send 95,000 books to children in Liberia, Africa, and many more books to children in the U.S. and other countries. That included 1,000 books for children in Dodge City, Kansas.
The ceremony to present the books and bookcases to the children was held at the Village Square Mall. David greeted me with a smile and a firm handshake. He showed me the rows of sturdy little wooden bookcases lined up. “The first year I built 15 bookcases,” he said. “Then others started helping, and we ramped the number up to 30 the second year. This year we did 50, and next year we will build 65.”
“They’re beautiful,” I said, admiring one of the bookcases. Each one bore a personalized plaque engraved with the recipient child’s name.
“We ask individuals and local businesses to sponsor the cost of each bookcase, about $60 for materials,” David explained.
Then it was time for the ceremony. The students receiving the bookcases had been selected by their respective elementary schools and from Bright Beginning Head Start and Sacred Heart Cathedral School.
The entire family of each child had come to witness this memorable honor. Mom, Dad, brothers, sisters, grandparents, and even teachers participated.
I watched as child after child came forward to receive their bookcase and a starter bag of books. Then they pushed their bookcase back into the crowd and the waiting arms of their family. I saw the smiles on their faces and the twinkles in their eyes as they realized that this gift was their very own—and the beginning of a lifelong adventure with books.
My eyes filled with tears, and I thought of how even this touching scene was just the tip of the iceberg. I thought of the thousands of children around the world who were also receiving books, and all of the people who had helped make it possible.
After the celebration, when I saw David and Sheila I again choked up. To me, they represented this worldwide movement of people helping children discover the joy of reading. There were no words I could utter to express my feelings. I could only give them a hug and think that there are still good cowboys, even today.
“I thought of the thousands of children around the world who were also receiving books, and all of the people who had helped make it possible.”