There’s a Webster’s dictionary that sits on a bookshelf at my home.
To most observers, I’m sure it looks like just an ordinary dictionary. It is a hardcover, and its faded red color tells you it’s getting on in years.
But oh, that’s no ordinary dictionary to me. You see, as a sixth-grader, I was chosen to participate in a town-wide spelling bee. My team (it wasn’t an individual thing) won it all. We were the C-H-A-M-P-I-O-N-S. The prize awarded to each team member, with his or her name inscribed in it, was that dictionary.
Why do I tell this story? Well, mainly to brag. I haven’t won much in my life, so I have to talk about the dictionary whenever the opportunity presents itself.
But I’m also trying to make a point. We all attach sentimental value to certain items. That’s especially true if the item has been given to us as an award or just a gift. That dictionary is one of those things for me. I’ll probably hang on to it until the day I die.
Thanks to the work of a certain local civic club, many children in our area have received dictionaries that they, too, can keep until they grow old and gray.
For years it has been the mission of the Altrusa International of Bentonville/Bella Vista club to distribute dictionaries to every third-grader in the Bentonville, Pea Ridge and Gravette school districts.
This school year, the club spent several thousand dollars on nearly 1,700 dictionaries, according to club president Byretta Fish.
These dictionaries are more than just lists of words; they also contain facts about history and government and other information that could be useful to a third-grader.
“It’s a wonderful resource book,” Fish said.
You might think that, in this age of computers and the Internet, when the search engine has emerged as the most prominent research tool, a book like this is looked upon — especially by kids — as something of a relic. But as Fish pointed out, not every kid has his own computer. And there’s still something special about having a book to call your own — especially when it’s got your name written inside it.
“It is amazing even today when we realize how exciting it is for a child to actually have their very own book,” Fish said.
You have to like any project that promotes literacy, a fondness for books, and a love of learning among children.
There are Altrusa clubs across the country, each one with its own pet project. The Bentonville/Bella Vista club, with approximately 25 members, focuses on boosting literacy in the area. The dictionary project is its chief initiative.
To pay for it, the club holds several fundraisers throughout the year. The next one is Thursday, Oct. 6. It’s a spaghetti dinner, to be held at the First United Methodist Church, 201 N.W. Second St. in Bentonville, starting at 4 p.m. for take-out dinners and 5 p.m. for those dining at the church. Tickets are $7 for adults and $3.50 for children 5 and younger. Anyone interested can call Fish at 479-366-9343.
There is evidence to suggest that civic club membership is on the decline throughout America. An occasional reminder of the value of our civic clubs is in order. You won’t hear many clubs tooting their own horns for the good things they do; they just do what they do because they’re committed to serving their communities. Their work should not go unnoticed.
I hope those kids treasure their dictionaries as much as I treasure mine. But more importantly, I hope they remember that those books didn’t just fall out of the sky. I hope that when they’re adults, they will remember the kindness that some strangers once showed to them, and that they will pay it forward.
This copyrighted article published with permission from Northwest Arkansas Newspapers and the Benton County Daily Record.