Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Making A Difference With Books

Tokalopulli -- "an old crossing place"

Hundreds of years ago, the Chickasaw Indians traveled through what is now Pontotoc County Mississippi on their way to and from the Chickasaw Bluffs (Memphis, TN). At one point along the way, their trail intersected another trail from the south used by the Choctaws. An old crossing place.

To my knowledge, the Indians didn't have books back when they walked the Toccopola Trail, but if they had, they could have stopped off at the Toccopola Community Center and exchanged those books for books of equal value, with no requirement to return them. Okay, so that's historically inaccurate, but it makes a good segue into present-day Toccopola, and the good work being done by the Toccopola Homemakers Club.

With a population of 254, the town isn't quite big enough for a full-fledged public library (they have a good one a dozen or so miles to the east in the town of Pontotoc), but that didn't stop Margaret Ratliff, Harley Ann Thorne, Mary Frances Stepp, Melba Edwards, and the other members of their club from making books available to those with restricted travel as well as to those who simply like the idea of exchanging fiction with their friends and neighbors.
Margaret and Harley Ann

The Book Exchange began as a yearly project for the Homemakers Club. They liked the idea of offering a free service to the community while promoting literacy. As the idea took root, the members gathered books from their personal collections or purchased new books in order to stock the shelves their husbands would build with donated lumber and labor. Most southern men can drive a nail and operate a circular saw, especially when their wives ask them to.

Thanks to the mayor and board of aldermen, they were allowed to convert a small office in the community center to use as their library. Later, as their inventory of books outgrew the small room, two of the husbands built rolling bookshelves, allowing the library to expand into the larger meeting area during operating hours.

On the first Saturday of every month, from 9 AM to 11 AM, the Book Exchange opens for business. Margaret and Harley Ann
usually arrive early to roll the shelves out and lug the boxes of books from the tiny library to the tables in the meeting area. The exchange has between one and two thousand books now, and routinely donates books to nursing homes, assisted living centers, The Salvation Army, Goodwill, and Sanctuary Hospice House in order to keep their inventory manageable.

"If we know of someone who is disabled or ill, we will take some books to them or send them by their neighbor," says Margaret.

Toccopola Book Exchange receives no outside funding. All expenses are paid by the Homemakers
Club. The town provides the space free of charge because the mayor and aldermen realize the value of providing literary services to its citizens.

On a typical Saturday, the Book Exchange sees between ten and fifteen people. While that may not
sound like a lot, by my math, it is roughly 6% of the population participating on a regular basis.

The Homemakers Club won first place at State the year they started the Book Exchange, then followed it up later by winning first place for the Drive-thru Book Bank project on the corner near the Betty Allen Monument. Who was Betty Allen you ask? Google that one. Toccopola, you see, is as rich in history as it is in present-day community service.

The Book Exchange is more than an exchange of books. It's the exchange of fellowship and good will among neighbors. How can you help? By using the service. Exchanging books keeps the library alive.

What can you do to serve your community?

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Child Abuse Prevention

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Shouldn't every month
be? Every day? Almost everyone either knows an abused child or suspects they might, or has at some point in their life. Abused children don't advertise it. Just because you don't see bruises doesn't mean everything is fine. So when is it time to interject yourself? To become involved?

There are many forms of child abuse. A myriad of reasons why, but no excuse. Not a single excuse for causing the abuse or for allowing it to continue.

As you may know, my first novel, The Night Train, deals heavily with child abuse. Young Jayrod Nash is terribly abused by his father, neglected by his mother, bullied at school, and sometimes chided by his fourth grade teacher. Now before you click away, this post is not a commercial for my book. I mention it because I've received so many comments from people telling me the book has either helped someone they know, or would help if only they knew to read it. One small disclaimer: I didn't write The Night Train to lecture on the ills of child abuse. In fact, the book doesn't lecture at all. Jayrod Nash is a boy on an adventure, and he just happens to be abused. The events in the book occur as a result of his trying to escape the life he is becoming to realize isn't normal. You see, it all began when I started asking myself if abused children -- kids who know no other way of life -- actually understand how wrong their situation is. So, the book takes the reader into Jayrod's days and nights through his eyes, interpreting events and situations as he sees them.

One of the highlights of my writing career has been going to schools and speaking to kids. Inevitably, in every single instance there's been at least one child who fit the profile. After one such visit I received a letter from a seventh grader telling me she saw herself in Jayrod. It was heartbreaking, and I admit I struggled with what to do with that information. Ultimately, I contacted the teacher, who followed procedure and shared the information with the principal. Privacy laws prevent me from knowing what happened after that, but that little girl thanked me for writing the book. If I've accomplished nothing else with my writing, I think I helped that little girl to at least know she is not alone.

That's important -- knowing you're not alone.

Another time, a young man approached me at an event and introduced himself. He very nervously shook my hand and told me (his voice cracking) that he felt like Jayrod. Words can't describe the mix of emotions I felt. Thinking I had helped ... helpless to do more.

You are not alone.

Enough with the commercial. Just to prove that my feelings on abused children didn't manifest themselves just to sell a book, I would like to share with you a poem I wrote when I was a teen.

   THE CRIME OF SILENCE

              by Carl Purdon

Through cries and screams and sobbing eyes
our children beg to be believed.
How long until we realize?
This pain they feel must be relieved.

So many lost along the way.
Graves and jails lock them in.
The guilty ones still free to prey,
on innocence with their sins.

The teacher sees the child alone,
shy and scared while others play.
Suspecting things not well at home,
she wants to help but looks away.

The preacher gives his message clear
"Spare the rod and spoil the child".
He fails to say "Let's hold them dear,
with patient heart and tempers mild."

The neighbor hears the loud abuse
and sees the marks on her tiny face.
He has no proof so there's no use
butting in is not his place.

The doctor mends the broken arm,
while bruises tell the nasty truth.
He knows inside what caused this harm,
but writes it off as part of youth.

The men we send to make our laws
ignore this truth - so hard to face.
And we with votes must see their flaws,
send someone else to take their place.

We seek a place to lay the blame,
while our children take another blow.
When another dies - the cause the same,
we swear to God we didn't know.

Child abuse is not private business. It's not the type of thing we should glance away from and pretend we don't see the signs. I'm no expert on the subject. I'm not a doctor, or a psychologist. The only degree I have is in electronics, but I do have some common sense. I suspect you do as well.

To learn more about child abuse and what you can to to help, I strongly urge you to visit child welfare.gov today.