Rotary Club of Winnetka-Northfield donates books to Waukegan school

A book is a dream that you hold in your hand. (Neil Gaiman)

Living without books to encourage dreams, or open doors and windows into broader worlds of knowledge and imagination, is to live without one of the world’s great treasures.

When Waukegan teacher Julie Ahern saw how one of her second grade students reacted to getting a new book on Friday, she could tell that he certainly thought the gift was a treasure.

“He said, ‘Do you mean I can keep this?’ and he hugged the book and his eyes just lit up,” said Ahern, who has taught at Waukegan’s Andrew Cooke Magnet School for 22 years.

Ahern’s young charges were the beneficiaries of a donation of 45 books from the Rotary Club of Winnetka-Northfield. Club president Patti Van Cleave said the donation was the club’s effort for National Random Acts of Kindness Day, a day publicized by the Denver-based Random Acts of Kindness Foundation.

“(The donation) isn’t particularly random, but it is an act of kindness,” Van Cleave said.

Van Cleave said that many Rotary clubs had their own projects for the day. The Winnetka-Northfield club, which was founded in 1924 and currently has 60 members, began working on its Random Acts of Kindness project about a month ago, she said. The group bought the books from the First Book nonprofit organization, which provides books and other learning materials at a discount for schools and programs serving children from low-income families, she said.

Van Cleave said fellow club member Rich Lalley chose the 45 books, enough to provide each child in Ahern’s classroom with a title to take home, and one to keep at school. They ranged from biographies of Benjamin Franklin to stories of great American women, poetry for children and much more, Van Cleave said.

The club inserted a bookplate into each volume, showing that the book was donated by the Winnetka-Northfield club, she said, as well as the words of Rotary’s “four-way test.”

“We recite the test at our meetings,” Van Cleave said. “Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better friendships? Will it beneficial to all concerned? We put that in so the kids understand what we in Rotary are, and what we do in the world.”

The club has had a relationship with Ahern for a few years, Van Cleave said. Ahern is a former Rotary Ambassador who said her experience as an ambassador in England convinced her to become a teacher.

Ahern said the relationship with the Winnetka-Northfield group began when she met Lalley, and he invited her to speak to the club.

“We’ve kept in touch ever since. About a week ago, he sent me a Facebook message saying, ‘Give me a call, I’ve got a great idea,'” Ahern said of the donation project.

Van Cleave said the donation wasn’t the only thing club members undertook on Random Acts of Kindness Day; the club printed business cards that said “You’ve been the recipient of a random act of kindness” that members could hand out after doing something nice for someone, like picking up the tip for a neighboring table in a restaurant, she said.

“It’s fun, and I hope we encouraged our members to hand them out,” she said.

Van Cleave invited people interested in joining the Rotary Club of Winnetka-Northfield to attend one of the club’s regular Thursday meetings, held from 12:15-1:30 p.m. at the Winnetka Community House. To learn more about the club, it program schedule, and its charitable and service programs, visit

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Twitter: @pioneer_kathy

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