When she was a young girl, Margaret Regina loved storybooks. She laughed at the antics of Curious George, and she loved the rhymes of Dr. Seuss.
Now, Regina and her friends in the Senior Program of Arundel Lodge are helping children at Jess- up Elementary School in Anne Arundel County experience the joy of reading through a fund-raising and literacy partnership begun last fall.
Arundel Lodge, based in Annapolis, is a nonprofit rehabilitation facility for adults with chronic mental illness. It includes day patients and others, such as Regina, who live in residential group homes designed for senior citizens with disabilities.
The partnership with Jessup Elementary grew out of discussions among Arundel Lodge staff and Senior Program patients about how they could help the communities in which they live, said Mary Campbell, Senior Program manager.
"We wanted to start an outreach program because individuals with mental illnesses get such negative publicity," said Campbell, a former educator.
The group chose to focus on literacy because many of the residents remember when society placed greater emphasis on getting a job than on education. "We would like the senior population to help ensure that the youth of today not grow up illiterate," said Campbell.
The residents at Arundel Lodge decided to donate books rather than computer software because "the tools for researching and reading are in books in a more basic, hands-on way than in computers," said Campbell. And they chose Jessup Elementary in Severn because of its proximity to the group homes where some of the residents live.
Each resident receives a small allowance for expenses. For months, they've been saving change in a big jar, working toward the goal of buying books. Three residents, Regina, Rosalie Sterling and Ed McKenzie, delivered the first installment - 10 books - shortly before the school year ended.
And that's just a start. The Arundel Lodge volunteers are halfway to achieving their next goal: to raise more than $749 to purchase a new set of encyclopedias and a rolling book cart for the school.
That gift will fill an important need, according to Carol Perry, Jessup's librarian. Currently, the school has one encyclopedia set, which has to stay in the library. With the donation of a mobile set, teachers can bring the volumes to their classrooms for students to use in research projects.
To raise money for the set, Arundel Lodge is selling a cookbook, with some residents and staff donating recipes and others helping to assemble the books.
The program has begun to forge links between the school community and Arundel Lodge, a connection illustrated by the warm reception the residents received from pupils the day they delivered the books.
The adults delighted in presenting the books and in discussing their encyclopedia project, and the children seemed pleased by the stories and the affection shared by the visitors, offering a bag of pennies to the fundraising.
Fifth-graders Brittany Campbell and Kathleen Benik enjoyed Regina's reading of Curious George. Brittany said she thought the gift was "nice because it's their own money and they're using it to buy us books." Kathleen added that the project made her feel "good that people care about kids."
And some of the residents are planning other ways to encourage the youngsters to read.
Beatrice Brune, who worked as a schoolteacher before she retired, said she would like to take part in the Guest Reader program.
Sterling's eyes lighted up when she discovered that she could help in another way. Once a sales clerk in a bakery, she looks forward to helping children with arithmetic.
And although Regina became involved in this project as a way to help children, she discovered it was helping her, too. She became so captivated by the idea of boosting the children's literacy that she decided to boost her own. Lately, she's been busy with word search puzzles. Her goal: to build her vocabulary by adding a new word each week.
An Arundel Lodge cookbook can be purchased by contacting Mary Campbell, Senior Program manager, at 410-841-6131. The full purchase price of $5 will be used to help support the literacy enhancement project.