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RIF turns 30 in Statesboro
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Sallie Zetterower Elementary School pre-kindergartener Kobe Altman, 5, chuckles at Wednesday's puppet show as Statesboro Regional Library celebrates 30 years of RIF. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

Watch Studio Statesboro segment on the RIF program. Click on link:

    Brooklet Elementary School students giggled and squirmed in anticipation Thursday as they waited for a puppet show to begin at the Statesboro Regional Library. Soon, a gray cat poked its head out from underneath the curtains, drawing squeals of delight.
    For the past 30 years, Bulloch County students have been enjoying — and learning from — such events as the puppet show that are an important part of the Reading Is FUNdamental program, said Elaine McDuffie, Youth and Family Services director for the Statesboro Regional Library.
    This year's theme is "Be Creative at Your Library," and the puppet show's characters emphasized, through a cute story about a library cat and the night time visitors to the library, how being creative is important.
    The overall focus of the RIF program is about how reading is fun.  And at every RIF event, children are allowed to choose a book to keep.
    McDuffie and other library employees and volunteers were kept busy last week celebrating the programs's 30th anniversary. Students from all area schools visited the library, enjoyed the puppet show and then had fun selecting a book from a large variety of titles.
    Thirty years is a long time, and for a program to remain successful throughout that time proves the  program works, McDuffie said.
    And today, many RIF students have parents who were RIF kids too, she said. It's a program that sticks with its participants.
    "Some of our volunteers who helped start RIF 30 years ago are still active," she said.
    Those volunteers give their time to help stamp books, shelve books, lead RIF classes and read to children, she said. "That, more  than anything, is the reason RIF has been successful."
    Jane Sack, a Statesboro parent and now grandparent, served as the very first RIF coordinator in Statesboro, McDuffie said, Sack "served on the original committee organized to get the RIF program started in Statesboro.  She knew her own three boys loved the library and wanted to share that love of books and learning with other children in the community."
    “At the time, I was president of the PTA at Sallie Zetterower, and we knew that this new program was important to establish locally," Sack said. "We started the program with the kindergarten classes, and asked each class to contribute $10  toward purchasing books to distribute."
    They also asked parents to volunteer. Today, Sack's grandchildren participate in the RIF program.
    Sheron Bolen, also  founder of  the RIF program, has been a volunteer during the entire 30 years the program has been in place.
    “How much fun it has been to see RIF grow from serving only kindergarten  in just Bulloch County and now reaching preschool through second graders in five counties,"  she said.
    McDuffie said the program often gives students their first opportunity to own a book. As the library's adult literacy advocate, McDuffie has seen some homes where books were almost nonexistent.
    "You'd be surprised. I've gone into some homes and  the only book you'd see is a phone book," she said.
    Assistant Library Director Cora Fay recalled her first day on the job — it was also the first day of that year's RIF program.
    "When I walked in I noticed the library was filled with excited children," she said. "Before I could get my feet under my desk, a volunteer grabbed me saying ‘you must be here to read to the children’ and she put a book in my hand and a child in my lap.  I have been a RIF reader ever since.”
    RIF is a federally funded program through a matching share grant, and makes it possible for libraries to buy books from publishers at 50 to 60 percent discounts, McDuffie said.
    Anyone interested in becoming a  RIF volunteer can call Jessica Garner at 764-1346, or visit the library during business hours.
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