Books for Kids Founder Honored by LWRCF

Article by Jay Heater, Observer, November 1, 2023

The call came last week for Oneco Elementary teacher Jennifer Slattery.

A mom of one of her kindergarten students was on the line. The mom had been reading these brand new books to her daughter each night, and she wanted to know more.

“She wanted to know, ‘Do I get to keep these books?”” Slattery said.

Slattery explained that, yes, the books her daughter brought home were a gift from the Books for Kids program.

That mother might never know Ted Lindenberg, but the Lakewood Ranch resident has had an impact on that child, and that family.

Lindenberg would cry foul, saying that it is the many volunteers who have made the Books for Kids program work, and not just him.

Books for Kids creates impact

But the facts remain. After joining the Rotary Club of Lakewood Ranch in 2014, Lindenberg convinced the club and its members that they could have a great impact on area children through a books and reading program.

“Most Rotary programs were distributing dictionaries, and that was what we were doing in Lakewood Ranch, and it was wonderful,” Lindenberg said. “But it wasn’t enough. If we were going to make a difference in the lives of children, we needed to move. We needed to get books into their hands, and we wanted to get someone to go to the classrooms to develop a relationship, to help with comprehension, critical thinking and character development.”

The program started that year with five Rotarians as volunteers, eventually distributing 300 books that school year at Ballard Elementary in Bradenton, helping 100 children. 

“Every year it has continued to grow,” said Lindenberg, who has continued to lead the program as chairperson throughout. “It took on a life of its own. Those five volunteers have become close to 150. We want them to transfer the love of reading from the volunteer to the child.”

The approximately 150 volunteers now go into 174 classes at 10 School District of Manatee County elementary schools. The goal for the Rotary program this school year is to distribute 32,000 books which will bring the program to about 200,000 books distributed since its inception. The program has helped more than 14,000 children in its nine years.

Books for Kids volunteers go into first through third grade classes at elementary schools once a month to distribute books and, starting last year, the program now has added a kindergarten weekly mentoring program.

Books for Kids has received the Florida State Education Award, the Manatee County Civic Partnership Award, recognition from the Board of Education of Manatee County, and a letter of recognition from Congressman Vern Buchanan.

Humanitarian of the year

On Nov. 9 at the Lakewood Ranch Golf and Country Club, Lindenberg will be honored with the Lakewood Ranch Community Fund’s 2023 C. John A. Clarke Humanitarian Award. It will be awarded during the Soiree at the Ranch, which is the Community Fund’s major annual fundraising event.

“He has built the program into what it is today,” said River Club’s Douglas DuPouy, a Books for Kids volunteer and a lifetime educator who experienced the Books for Kids program firsthand when he was principal at Orange Ridge-Bullock Elementary in Bradenton. “The importance is just getting books into kids’ hands. Kids crave those books, and he worked countless hours into getting the job done. 

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