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Library system looking for a helping hand from Hometown Helper'

The Clinton Essex Franklin Library System is seeking assistance for its collaborative reading program and is looking to a growingly popular Web site. General Mills, producer of boxed meal kit Hamburger Helper, is offering $100,000 in its latest round of funding through the My Hometown Helper grant program. The library system, which constantly searches for new avenues of funding for its programs, learned of My Hometown Helper through Peggy Orman, childrens librarian at Saranac Lake Free Library. Ms. Ormans mother works for Cornell Cooperative Extension, which applied for funding through the program, though was not awarded. After further research of the program, the library system applied for $5,000 to fund its Take a Bite Out of Books program, which has provided a collaborative recreational reading incentive program for middle school readers in the tri-county area since 2005. The program was initially funded through a two-year Family Literacy start-up grant through the New York State Division of Library Development. Partial funding in the first two years also came from the individual libraries, with contributions of staff time, library resources, publicity and refreshments for meetings, said Kathie LaBombard, CEFLS youth services consultant. Libraries also fundraised locally, receiving donations of gift certificates from area businesses such as Fort Ticonderoga, Starbucks, Pizza Hut, Wal-mart, Pepsi and Stewarts Shops. While Take a Bite Out of Books has been proven successful with 12 libraries and more than 300 children and parents participating during the past two years, additional funding must be secured to continue the program, Ms. LaBombard said. As a group, we have been exploring funding options since our funding for the start-up ran out in June, said Ms. LaBombard. We are hoping that something will come in but are determined to keep seeking funding so that the program can go on ... We dont want anyone not to be able to participate because they cant afford to. If awarded the My Hometown Helper grant, the money will help CEFLS provide six paperback books to each child who wishes to participate and, if possible, to the parents, teachers, librarians and other community members who volunteer to be coaches for the kids. A large part of Take a Bite Out of Books is an annual competition held at the Champlain Centre mall in Plattsburgh. The Jeopardy-style tournament tests young readers knowledge of books read in the program. The event involves costs of renting audio equipment, providing mall gift certificates for winners and providing T-shirts with the programs logo to all participants. The enthusiasm of the children at the competition is so contagious, said Ms. LaBombard. They really want to do well and are fiercely competitive. By the same token, I have seen them exhibit remarkable sportsmanship even in the face of defeat. If we were successful in raising more than the $5,000, and we could afford to, my dream would be to bring one of the selected authors to the mall on the day of the competition to sign books and greet the kids, added Ms. LaBombard, who helps libraries develop and implement programs for children and teens. As you can imagine, that would be a few thousand more, depending on the distance the author would have to travel and their travel reimbursement policies. In addition to the Hometown Helper program, CEFLS has grant requests submitted to the Hannaford Foundation, Time Warner Cable and Sen. Betty OC. Little, all in an effort to keep children reading. I am a true believer that this program makes readers out of children who might not otherwise be motivated to pick up a book, said Ms. LaBombard. Take a Bite Out of Books is only one of the many programs offered by the library system, which also benefits from local, state and federal funding. Each year, the library system also offers the New York State Summer Reading Program to all libraries in Clinton, Essex and Franklin counties. CEFLS provides libraries with materials such as reading records and certificates for kids, books to add to what they have available in rotating collections and videos and DVDs kids and parents may borrow, said Ms. LaBombard. Next years theme will be Catch the Reading Bug. Whats the Big Idea?, a science-math program for pre-school children and their families, is another project offered by the library system. That project will run through 2008, and is funded by the National Science Foundation through the Vermont Center for the Book. For more information about the Clinton Essex Franklin Library System, Take a Bite Out of Books, or any other library system program, call the CEFLS offices at 563-5190 or visit their Web site at www.cefls.org. To learn more about the Hamburger Helper My Hometown Helper grant program, visit their Web site at www.myhometownhelper.com .

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