Awesome Foundation Grant Award Winner: Kindred Park Board/Kindred Public Library

Written by: Brandi Malarkey

At first glance, reading books and physical fitness may seem mutually exclusive. This year, however, the Kindred Park Board and the Kindred Public Library are joining forces to demonstrate that pairing exercise and literacy can provide a fun and unique community experience.

“With Covid last year a lot more people got out walking and wandering the parks,” states Michael Brown, Director of Parks and Recreation in Kindred, ND. “We wanted to do something to keep that momentum going.”

In researching and exploring options to bring to his community, Brown learned about an initiative called StoryWalks®. The original StoryWalk® project was created by Anne Ferguson of Montpelier, Vt., and developed in collaboration with the Kellogg-Hubbard Library to promote literacy by using a series of mobile signs designed to connect reading and learning with physical activity.

“It looked like a fun, familyfriendly activity. Our library has been doing such an unbelievable job with their programming, this was a great opportunity to team up to bring more things to our community and get people outside.”

Jennifer Guzik, of the Kindred Public Library board, agrees. “This is the first big project we’ve partnered on with the Park Board, and we are so excited. We were aware of StoryWalks®, there have even been some set up in Fargo, and it seemed a great project for us. I love making use of our walking trails to pair literacy and exercise.”

Both entities brought their areas of expertise to the table in figuring out the logistics of bringing the project to their community; the Park Board taking on the task of constructing mobile signs that would brave the North Dakota elements and make the project possible, and the Library choosing books that would be interactive, yet without so much text as to be burdensome as people moved through the community.

“Our first book is Bird Watch, by Christie Matheson. It’s a great book with birds hidden in the pictures. You can read the text, or look for the birds—it can be as interactive as you want it to be,” says Guzik.

Despite their obvious enthusiasm, it wasn’t initially clear if the Park Board and the Library would able to bring the initiative to their area, as neither had a budget for such a project. However, the Kindred Public Library was able to obtain a Library Vision Summer Grant from the North Dakota State Library to cover the cost of books, as well as a laminator to assist with the signage, and the Kindred Park Board applied for a grant from the local chapter of the Awesome Foundation. In full support of the project, the Cass Clay chapter of the Awesome Foundation designated the Kindred Park Board as their May 2021 grantee, and gifted them with $1000 toward the construction of the signs that would be used throughout the community.

With sign installation secured, the Kindred StoryWalk® is now showcasing Bird Watch throughout the Kindred Park system.

“There are clear signs with arrows for people who wander, but there is also a map available, both at the library and on our website. The walk starts at one of our Free Little Libraries and winds its way along the park, along the bike path, by the softball field. People can ride bikes, jog, or stroller their kids. There are over twenty different displays, and many stopping spots along the way for people to take a break. It really is self-paced, people can get out of it what works for them.” Brown says with enthusiasm. “It’s a fun way to encourage people of all ages to read, move, and enjoy the outdoors.”

While the Kindred Park Board has many thoughts and plans for providing different opportunities to promote health and recreation to their community, they are also appreciative of the reusable aspect of the StoryWalk® project, allowing them to utilize the same resources for multiple different experiences.

“Because the signs are mobile they afford us the opportunity to create a new experience each and every time with new trails and new texts offered to our residents. This fall we will do a different location, with different winding roads. And moving into next year, there is so much possibility to explore different ways to get around town, maybe have a downtown walk,” says Brown.

Possible future books and paths may still be under consideration, but the Kindred Park Board and the Kindred Public Library already have their fall plan in place. They will be showcasing Our Great Big Backyard, by Laura Bush and Jenna Bush Hager, a book that is also part of the Reading Road Trip USA Kindred summer reading program.

“We are so excited to be able to do this,” Guzik says, the smile clear in her voice. “All ages and families can explore nature and literacy together. And this is something that isn’t just for Kindred. This is something people from the surrounding towns can also enjoy. We welcome anyone who wants to participate.”

The Cass Clay chapter of the Awesome Foundation awards a $1,000 gift each month for awesome ideas of all sorts. Grant recipients do not need to be associated with a nonprofit. Applications can be made at awesomefoundation. org/en/chapters/cassclay

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