Face Behind the Books: Norma Valentine
Meet Norma Valentine, Vice President in Charge of Operations!
When it comes to literacy, Norma Valentine has a passion for knowledge. “I am an information junkie and know, first-hand, that literacy is power and brings people together.” Norma first became involved with Books to Benefit five years ago to support the efforts of her daughter Stephanie Fulton and son-in-law Bryan who were among the founding Books to Benefit Board Members.
Fondly referred to as the current Heart of Books to Benefit by other volunteers, Norma likes to avoid the spotlight. “If it wasn’t for the efforts of the group, Books to Benefit would have to close its doors. I volunteered to help my family through the application process. I fell in love with the group and never left. As a family of book lovers, we found our purpose,” Norma shared as she poured over the latest donations.
How Did Books to Benefit Start?
Books to Benefit began in an effort to continue the book sales formerly run by the Friends of the Public Library. When the Friends of the Public Library was no longer able to continue, the founding board members felt it was important to the community to make books available to everyone at reasonable prices. It made sense to reinvest the proceeds from the sales into local literacy programs. STAR Adult Literacy is the beneficiary of the current sales.
“Book sales are the essential to our mission to support literacy. The success of the book sales allowed STAR Adult Literacy to continue operating throughout state budget cuts,” Norma proudly commented. “We have a mission to support our community.”
Why Do Volunteers Like Norma Get Involved?
All the volunteers are passionate about literacy because they know it has the power to change lives. The community values the book sales and feels good that their purchases help to give back. Volunteering provides an opportunity for community service so the mission is really three-fold.
Norma lost her husband – the love of her life, Mark, shortly after getting involved with the organization. Books to Benefit not only provided her with a way to share her love of books, it also gave Norma an excuse to get out of the house and work through her grief. “The volunteers are such a special group. We support each other, recommend books to read, share coffee and cookies and manage to get work done! We’ve become a small and mighty family.”
Norma recalls one dedicated member, who, like her, found solace in volunteering after losing her husband. “Something happens to people when they connect with books,” Norma shared. “This volunteer came to find books for her children and signed on as a volunteer. After working through her grief, she was ready to reengage in life. She comes back to visit and speaks fondly of her time with Books to Benefit.”
What is So Special About the Books?
These are not ordinary book sales. Books are sorted by genre and alphabetized by author. Volunteers become specialists in their specific sections. They, not only recommend their favorite books, they are so familiar with the collections that they help patrons find books they are looking to purchase.
What is next for Books to Benefit?
As the founding board decided to take a break Norma stepped forward to continue their work. She saw an opportunity to take Books to Benefit to the next level. Armed with a working knowledge of non-profits she created strategic alliances in the community to support the three-fold mission: to collect and sell donated books, to support local literacy efforts and to provide an opportunity for community service.
“This year’s donations are on the rise. The community sees us as a valuable resource and is eager to support our efforts. We recently received a $1000 check from an anonymous donor through the Illinois Prairie Community Foundation,” Norma proudly shared. “We are passionate about literacy.”
“Strategic partnership make sense. The days of competition are over. Leverage the strengths that each alliance partner provides to offer the community value,” Norma shared. “Many of our volunteers initially came to us through the YWCA’s Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP). We soon realized that we needed help with the manual labor. We reached out to Youth Build, Chestnut Strategic Partners and area high schools to name a few. Synergy developed because we provide more than community service opportunities. We teach volunteerism, provide senior-youth mentorship, create cross-generational cooperation and happily infect others with our love for books.”
A recommendation from long-time volunteer Barb Efaw spawned Norma’s interest in early 20th century history. Prior to volunteering Norma’s favorite genre was science fantasy.
“Any of R.A. Salvatore’s books in the Dark Elf Series fit the bill. I’m in love with one of the characters – Drizzt Do’Urden, and it’s the real thing!” insisted Norma. “I love the way he struggles with his humanity.”
What is next for Norma?
As an information junkie, Norma loves knowledge. Her hobbies include reading, crochet, writing, drawing, singing and vegetable gardening. She loves healthy foods and fancies herself a healthy food accessibility advocate. To continue her lifelong journey for knowledge, each year Norma finds a book to teach her something new. She puts her reading into action and acquires a new skill. Books to Benefit helps her fuel her passion.
Don’t be surprised if you see Norma running around during the sale. She will be the one asking if you would like to get involved.