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Local Library Celebrates 20 Years of Reading and Rolling, Honors Program Founder, Pat Morgan

Mary Sue Morgan, Laura Johnson and Pat Morgan celebrate 20 years of volunteering with Reading and Rolling. Mary Sue is holding the token of appreciation presented to Pat during a surprise celebration at Watauga Country Library in Boone. Photo by Sherrie Norris 

By Sherrie Norris 

This summer marks the 20th anniversary of the Reading and Rolling  program administered by the local library through which students in some of Watauga County’s rural areas receive books to read during their school break. 

On Tuesday, Aug. 13, local library staff, Friends of the Library, and in particular, volunteers with the Reading and Rolling program, came together for a “meeting,” which evolved into a surprise celebration of the program and its founder, Pat Morgan.

Morgan and his wife, Mary Sue, a retired librarian, were commended by those in attendance for their many years of dedication to the summer reading opportunity. 

While having earlier deciding to step away from his leadership role, Pat Morgan assured those present that he would still be involved.

Agreeing to take the reins of the successful community outreach, Laura Johnson —who recently retired from teaching at Cove Creek, and has been involved with the program since it began — presided over the celebration. 

The Reading and Rolling logo, designed by Bethel artist Cindy Pacilea,  salutes Watauga children as readers, the library as book providers and volunteers who roll out their cars to deliver the books. Photo provided by Maggie Christenbury.

“Placing a book in the hands of children has always been a goal of the Reading and Rolling program,” she said. “It took vision, compassion and commitment to make this a reality. Pat and Mary Sue have served our community in many ways. They are humble people who lift up others. They have built a rock-solid foundation that benefit students in outlying parts of the county. They created more opportunities by bringing libraries, schools, volunteers and families together with smiles, connections, and the generosity of their time.”

Addressing the Morgans, Johnson continued, “As we celebrate the 20th year of this program, we are all grateful for the efforts you have given on behalf of so many students.”

Even before Reading and Rolling began, Johnson stated, Pat faithfully read to children in several schools and daycares. 

“He would end each session with a saying —‘Get a good  library book and read, read, read, read. Ask a friend over to play, and if a friend can’t come to play, play by yourself, or get a good book from the library and dream, dream, dream!’”

In presenting a token of appreciation to the Morgans, Johnson said to them, “Thank you for your heart in spreading education and imagination. It is my hope that we will continue to read, think and dream through Reading and Rolling Program for another 20 years!”

With Johnson’s knowledge of the school system, her passion and enthusiasm for the program, Morgan said he had no doubt that Reading and Rolling will benefit greatly from her leadership in the future. 

“Reading and Rolling requires much work behind the scenes before the books ever leave the libraries,” he added. “Laura will see that it is done and done well.”

Reading and Rolling Across Watauga County 

 An average of 60 elementary students, living in some of the most rural sections of the county, receive around 2,400 books each summer, delivered by volunteers through Reading and Rolling. That’s 10 books at a time, every two weeks, to youngsters who might not otherwise have easy access to the county libraries.

The outreach has grown significantly since Morgan first approached Ala Moretz, Green Valley School’s librarian at the time, with his idea. 

“He told me that students should have access to reading material year-round, not just while school is in session,” Moretz recalled. 

Agreeing with his analogy, Moretz joined Morgan’s efforts in developing a plan; soon, Green Valley became the pilot for what resulted in a very successful endeavor.

Pat Morgan, at right, and retired librarian, Ala Sue Moretz, teamed up in 2003 as Green Valley School served as the pilot for Reading and Rolling. Photo by Sherrie Norris

“We came up with a letter to introduce the program to our students and their parents, inquiring if there was interest in such a program; we gave it to the teachers to send home with their students. When the letters came back in, they were returned to Pat, who literally got the program rolling.” 

Morgan said that Moretz was the only school librarian he knew at the time. “She had earlier worked as an intern with my wife, Mary Sue, who was the public librarian at the time. Ala Sue was married, expecting her first child and was the shyest little lady I had ever seen. But she helped get this thing off the ground and we have been wonderful friends with her and her husband, Danny, ever since.”

Pat approached The Friends of the Library, who agreed to sponsor the program and provide bags to be filled with books for delivery. Volunteers were recruited, and so it began.”

This was in 2003, Morgan said. “I had been reading in schools by that time and I was trying to come up with something to do in retirement. Of course, I had heard of bookmobiles forever; with Mary Sue at the public library, she had even driven the bookmobile when the regular driver wasn’t available, but they couldn’t cover the whole county.”

That’s when he came up with the idea, “bounced it off Ala Sue – and the program evolved,” he said.

In addition to Green Valley, other schools added to the program included Mable, Cove Creek and Bethel.

“I’ve always wanted to cover the entire county with all schools represented, but the libraries do not have enough books to have that many out at one time,” Morgan explained.

This past summer, there were “just over 50 students” in the Reading and Rolling program, Morgan said. “That’s 600 books to start with and 600 more taken out to replace them, so that’s 1200 out of the library collections at one time. Of course, we have to leave some for regular library patrons.”

Support from Friends of the Library has been vital to the program’s success, Morgan stated. “They have funded the program from the start, and offered to pay for gas for the volunteer drivers who use their own vehicles to deliver the books. (Most volunteers donate their mileage and don’t accept the reimbursement.) Then, we came up with the money to also reward the librarians and the libraries for their assistance. We gave each school $15 for each student participant.

It’s not always a simple drive through the park to get books to their students, Morgan implied.

“Think about some of the routes in these outlying areas,” he said. “You could easily cover a 100-mile range per delivery.”

 Fortunately,  he added, “If we had a family really far out, we could often arrange to meet that parent somewhere, either in town at their work or on the side of the road, which we have done.”

Deliveries are set up to be in the same general area. “For instance, if we have a volunteer going to Bethel, or out to Todd – it might be a 20 mile trip, but we might have other stops along the way.” 

Some schools have a maximum of 15 students, “but we encourage them to get more,” he said. “If one school doesn’t have 15, we open up the slots to the others schools.”

Students and parents have often expressed appreciation for this service, Morgan shared. “At least one parent said that it wasn’t easy to get her son, or boys, in general, interested in reading, but they often became readers because of Reading and Rolling. That’s very pleasing to us. As Ala Sue said recently, you have to find something they’re interested in and they will read about it. Sure enough, that’s been true, in some cases.”

Mitzi London, current librarian at Green Valley School has been involved with the program since she was at Bethel and “is really enthusiastic about it,” Morgan said.

London shared, “We are so grateful for the Reading and Rolling program. We recognize and appreciate the continued opportunity offered to our students to participate, annually, in this invaluable program. With the help of dedicated volunteers, books are delivered to the doorsteps of our students that would otherwise not be able to have access to reading resources.”
Additionally, London said, “As a result of participating in the program, we are provided funds allowing us to purchase books that are of high interest to our students. We have added hundreds of new books to our media center collection as a result of the program’s generosity. The additional resources provided are genuinely appreciated by our students and staff, making it possible for us to continue to provide needed resources for all patrons. We also discuss with our participating students, their role as contributors to our media center and how the entire school benefits as a result of their reading over the summer.”

Reading & Rolling program is viewed as a privilege at Green Valley, she described. “We always look forward to the spring when we can begin the process again and enjoy a visit from Pat. What an inspiration he and Sue have been to all of us in the creation and continuation of this crucial program for our students.”

A Team Effort, Indeed

There are currently 20 volunteer drivers, many of who return year after year. “We usually give the kids a break from their school work for about two weeks each summer before we start delivering,” Morgan said. “That form we send out earlier helps us determine which child will benefit most, what the child likes, contact information, etc.; all that goes to the library from we are delivering – either the main one in Boone or the branch in Cove Creek. It’s quite an effort on the part of the libraries to get those books together. They do such a good job.”

Participating students might be those who really need to work on their reading, or maybe just because they love to read and might not be able to get to the library.

Parents are encouraged to call the library if the books are too hard, too easy or inappropriate for their age and interest. 

Students from Pre K  to fifth grades are the program’s target audience, “But, if an older child in the family wants books, we will include something for them, as well.” 

When the outreach first began, Morgan described, “It was touch and go. The volunteers were required to choose the books for the children. That wasn’t my idea. But, when the new librarian came in, she agreed that her staff would do the selection and the checking out, and they’ve done that now for a number of years. What a tremendous help that has been.”

To learn more about Reading and Rolling, to help as a volunteer, or make a donation, contact Watauga County Library, 140 Queen Street in Boone. Phone: (828) 264-8784.