AASL and Dollar General Literacy Foundation award two $50,000 Beyond Words Disaster Relief Grants

For Immediate Release
Mon, 07/06/2015


Jennifer Habley

Manager, Web Communications

American Association of School Librarians (AASL)



CHICAGO – Old Dock Elementary School in Whiteville, N.C., and James Monroe Elementary in Edison, N.J., are the recipients of the 2015 catastrophic disaster relief grants offered as a part of the American Association of School Librarians’ (AASL) Beyond Words Grant funded by the Dollar General Literacy Foundation. Since 2012, two catastrophic grants are awarded yearly to schools that suffered a 90 percent or greater loss to the school library program due to a natural disaster, fire or an act recognized by the federal government as terrorism. 

Early on the morning of Jan. 7, 2015, Old Dock Elementary School staff watched as fire fighters battled a blaze that would consume one of the main buildings of the school.

“There was nothing that could be salvaged from the ashes,” said school Librarian Brandy Lee. “Furniture, equipment, and of course books did not survive the fire. Along with the school library, three classes of 1st and 2nd graders (80 students) lost their classroom, as well as a computer lab, our office, 4 resource rooms, supply closet, and our auditorium. The school library will remain in the foyer of the gym until another is built.”

Despite the fire, students did not miss a day of school. Classes were combined and housed in other buildings as well as modular classrooms. From her makeshift library in the gym foyer, Lee remains committed to the school’s rich history of academic success.

“I will visit classrooms and share my love of reading as well as donated books,” said Lee. “We reside in an area that is socio-economically challenged and 85 percent of our students fall in the category of free and reduced lunch. Something as simple as a book will provide our students with years of experiences and enjoyment that they may otherwise not have.”

On March 22, 2014, James Monroe Elementary, home to 486 students in grades Kindergarten through 5th, was completely destroyed by a fire.

“I watched in dismay and fright as the flames rolled out of the windows of our school library,” said school Librarian Vera Beal. “The entire collection of books as well as all of our media equipment was destroyed. All of these wonderful amenities of the school year have been erased due to the fire.”

Since the fire, students and faculty have been temporarily relocated to two adjacent buildings and trailers at a local college two miles away from the school site. In the fall, they will be relocated again, this time to a vacated parochial school five miles away. This will be the James Monroe home until a permanent building is built.

“The school that we will inhabit in September has a large area designated as the library. However, the books that we have collected so far will fill only one tenth of the space,” explains Beal. “The surrounding communities have held book drives for us, and I have personally weeded through these books separating the usable from the inappropriate. We are still left with a small percentage of what we originally had.”

"Elementary schools are often the hub of the community and libraries are the hub of the school," said Terri Grief, AASL president. "When schools are tragically destroyed, the entire community is impacted. What a scary time for the children at Old Dock and James Monroe schools! The safe and secure place they relied on was gone overnight. The teachers, administrators and parents immediately banded together and sought solutions. Luckily for the school librarians and the students, the Dollar General literacy Foundation responded as well. The libraries will be able to replace materials that the kids need to succeed in their academic careers. AASL is so appreciative of Dollar General Beyond Words grant program. These funds directly impact children and communities and helps with the healing process after a catastrophe."

Since 2006, the Beyond Words grant program has provided relief to public school libraries nationwide that have suffered materials losses because of a major disaster ranging from hurricanes, tornados, flood, earthquakes, fires or an act of terrorism. To date, more than $1.6 million in grants have been awarded to over 150 schools across the country.  Funds replaced or supplemented books, media and/or library equipment within the school library or offset costs incurred by those schools opening their doors to significant numbers of new students displaced by the disaster. Applications are accepted on an ongoing basis and can be accessed online at www.ala.org/aasl/disasterrelief.

The American Association of School Librarians, www.aasl.org, a division of the American Library Association (ALA), empowers leaders to transform teaching and learning.