A converted schoolbus-turned-library will keep Randolph County kids reading all summer long.

The little Randolph County town of Beverly doesn’t have a public library. During the school year, Beverly Elementary fills the gap, allowing students to check out books from the school library. But once summer starts, there’s nowhere for kids to get free books.

So Lucy Godwin decided to take the books to the kids.

In 2017, Godwin, a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher at Beverly Elementary, got a $3,000 grant from the Dollar General Literacy Foundation to purchase books for a mobile library. She got another grant from the Elkins Rotary Club to buy car magnets and fuel. She and Principal Paul Zickefoose planned 13 stops that would be within walking distance of as many students as possible.

The school hoped to rent a 15-passenger van to haul the books from stop to stop. But, when Zickefoose went to pick it up, the van wasn’t road-ready. “He called me and said, ‘Goodness, Ms. Godwin, there’s something wrong with the van. Let’s just use my car,’” she says. “Mr. Zickefoose’s Volvo became the bookmobile.”

They went to Dollar Tree and picked up some balloons to decorate Zickefoose’s SUV. They slid the plastic tubs full of books into the hatchback. When they arrived at each stop, they just pulled the tubs out of the back and let the kids rifle through.

The library made its runs each Tuesday throughout the summer, and kids started showing up by the dozens. “At one stop, six kids got out of the creek in their bathing suits to come to the bookmobile,” Godwin says.

By the end of the summer, the mobile library had turned into a caravan. There was a car from insurance company UniCare passing out jump ropes and sunglasses. Another car hauled bags of healthy snacks, purchased with money from the Tygart Valley Lions Club and local churches and packed by residents of Lavender Fields Assisted Living in Beverly. Still another vehicle, from the WVU Extension Service in Randolph County, delivered fresh fruits and vegetables. At three stops, volunteers read books aloud for the children who showed up.

The program continued much the same in 2018, with Zickefoose’s Volvo hauling the books, the extension service providing fruits and vegetables, and another car delivering snacks packed by Lavender Fields residents.

But big changes are coming for summer 2019.

Zickefoose’s Volvo is retiring to make way for a new ride—a retrofitted 72-passenger school bus donated by Randolph County Schools. Students at the Randolph Technical Center removed the seats, installed flooring, designed and built shelves and tables for the interior, and sanded down the body and painted it white. Then Beverly Elementary’s custodian Ralph Currence, a talented artist, covered the bus in a giant mural with help from teachers and students.

The larger vehicle has allowed the mobile library to expand its programming. In addition to snacks, vegetables, and read-alouds, stops will now include math, reading, science, and social studies activities. And Godwin plans to partner with Valley Healthcare to offer blood pressure screenings and distribute health information.

On the bus’s inaugural run on June 18, West Virginia children’s author Cheryl Ware will ride along. Each child will receive a free copy of one of Ware’s books, which she will then sign.
Godwin says she can see offering tutoring or counseling services on the bus in the future. “There are a lot of possibilities and we’re not sure where it will take us,” she says.

photos courtesy of Lucy Godwin

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Zack Harold
Written by Zack Harold
Zack Harold is a southern West Virginia native. He covered education, health, and government at the Charleston Daily Mail before becoming the newspaper’s features editor. He joined New South Media in 2015, became managing editor of WV Living in January 2016, and took over as managing editor of Wonderful West Virginia in July 2016.