One night, while Cst. John Kennedy was sitting around the dinner table with his wife, Karen and their two sons, he shared with them some the troubles of his day. He had just arrested, for a second time – two young boys in Grade 9, and he found out that both boys could not read nor write. John asked his sons, Chris and Ryan, “are they learning to read in school?” They said the teachers were teaching, but that there was nothing interesting to read in the classrooms or the school library. Then John asked Karen, his wife, a frequent public library patron - how were the trips to the public library? And again, she said the boys had trouble finding something to read that was recent and interested them.
The next day, while on duty, John dropped by both the school and public libraries. That night at the dinner table, again – he said, “I was at both libraries today, and there are lots of books. Why aren’t you reading them?” And again, both boys said (at the same time!), “Because there is nothing there that we want to read!”.
The following day, John revisited the libraries and took a closer look. He spoke with the librarians. And he noticed, almost all the books on the shelves were held together by tape, some by scotch tape, others by masking tape, and some with packing tape. The books were old, and they were in rough shape.
John asked the library if they could use some help, and the librarians jumped at the chance.
That night, around the dinner table again, the discussion came around to libraries and reading again. John said to his sons, “You were right. I went to the libraries today, and I had a look at the books on the shelves – there isn’t much new stuff there.” And then he asked his family, “would you like to adopt the Library, and help them get more new good books for kids to read? Books that they will want to read?” They said, “Yes!” And the Adopt-a-Library Literacy Program was born.
In 1999, Cst. Kennedy and his family were transferred to New Glasgow, NS and the AAL Literacy Program moved with them too. After arriving, and settling in to their new home, John arranged meeting with the local library to explain the program and to see if the library would be interested in partnering with the program too. And the library was quick to agree, and the AAL Literacy Program was restarted in Pictou County.
Over the next 20 years, the AAL Literacy Program has spread to numerous libraries and schools, around the county, the province, the country and around the world – through the WOW! Reading Challenge (for world literacy champions!). The Adopt-a-Library Literacy Program has raised over 20 million dollars’ worth of books, and other materials to support community and family literacy initiatives in public libraries and school libraries, classrooms and group homes, food banks, early childhood literacy programs, day cares, and correctional facilities.
The Pictou-Antigonish Regional Library has strengthened this partnership over the years, by providing warehouse storage, office support, staffing support and the development and maintenance of a website, www.fightingcrime.ca. The AAL Literacy Program has grown from its humble beginnings in the Kennedy family’s living room to a large warehouse space, and evolved into a long-term crime prevention/literacy-based program, based on the concept - if we teach our children to read today, we can keep them out of jail tomorrow.
Sadly, research shows a strong correlation between illiteracy and crime - such that 65% of first-time inmates entering correctional facilities in Canada have difficulty reading. The motto of Adopt-a-Library Literacy Program has become “Fighting Crime, one book at a time!”
The AAL Literacy Program is the first crime prevention-literacy program in the world.
John has since retired from the RCMP, and continues to work with the AAL Literacy Program to promote community literacy and crime prevention. The WOW! Reading Challenge for World Literacy Championship continues with his support too. And Cst. Kennedy (ret’d) continues to build community partnerships to support the work of local libraries to offer innovative programming, with resources, materials, and great new books to get children and families of all ages excited about reading!