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Rotary members get a hoot out of helping youngsters





There were owls loose all over Washington Elementary School in Hays on Friday.

OWL is an acronym for this year's theme, "Outstanding Washington Learners," and students and staff were dressed in their spirit shirts worn on Fridays with a big owl on front.

There even is a poster hanging in the main hallway where an owl is saying "Get a hoot out of life."

In just his first few days in first grade, Kaden Dempsey is getting a hoot out of his new school.

When Larry Dreiling of the Hays Rotary Club told a group of youngsters they would be getting a free book to take home with them, Kaden -- a transfer student from Russell -- did a fist pump accompanied by a smile from ear to ear.

The local civic organization has been donating $2,000 to the book giveaway project for several years after Washington Principal Allen Park learned his school's book fair was in jeopardy because of a purchase minimum of $1,000 set by Scholastic Books.

"We don't have the enrollment to get to that," Park said of Washington, the smallest elementary school in Hays USD 489 with 123 students.

Dreiling learned of the plight and helped write a Rotary Foundation District Grant.

The Hays Rotary raises approximately $5,000 annually through various fundraisers, with 40 percent going to the Washington book giveaway.

After Washington parents and children purchase their books at the fall and spring book fairs, Rotary members come in on the last day of the fair and offer books to every single student to take home with them.

Each class got the chance to browse the selection of books Friday, picking one for $6.99 or less.

They then took them to a table, where Dreiling and another Rotary member, Mehran Shahidi, helped Washington staff place the children's names in them.

After the students chose their books, staff put them in a pile sorted by class to make sure every student gets one. Students then will receive their books to claim as their own this week.

"We couldn't do this without (Rotary)," Park said. "They've been outstanding partners and allow us to get books in the hands of kids."

"It serves a need," said Dreiling, who made his way among the youngsters, wearing a T-shirt with "Rotarian at Work" printed on the back.

Rotary's international motto, he explained, is to "do good in the world."

"This is our little corner of the world," he said, "where we can do a little good."