Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree” tells the powerful story of a friendship between a boy and a big-hearted tree. A copy of this timeless children’s tale – in near mint condition – was one of more than 2,000 books collected for The University of Scranton’s Panuska College of Professional Studies’ sixth annual “Blessing of the Books,” held on campus Dec. 6.
While the tale of the selfless tree provides a great lesson for readers, Debra Pellegrino, Ed.D., dean of the Panuska College of Professional Studies (PCPS), is most pleased with the individual message penned on the book’s inside jacket, written by one of her PCPS students.
“Always give from the Heart,” reads the note, signed by an individual from Chi Delta Rho, the University’s chapter of the international honor society for counselor educators, students and professionals.
Similar notes from University students are inscribed on all the donated books, which will be distributed to the Lackawanna County Juvenile Detention Center and Lackawanna County prison, as well as Scranton-area organizations such as Education OutsideThe Classroom (EOTC), United Neighborhood Center of Northeastern Pennsylvania and local daycares.
“There is always a highlight to the program and this year it’s the quality of the written messages in the books,” said Dean Pellegrino, adding the notes were written to explain why each individual book was a blessing.
Dean Pellegrino applauded the work of Aja Wentum, a graduate assistant who led this year’s book collection, as well as the many students who enthusiastically collected and contributed books. The book drive had several generous donors, including Kelly Dillon ’16, a PCPS freshman from Franklin, N.J., who collected 200 books with her family.
“Every book is a blessing and we should never take literacy for granted,” Dean Pellegrino said.
This is the first year “Blessing” books are being distributed to the county juvenile detention center, which houses on average between 8-10 teenagers awaiting their court appearances.
“When the juveniles get to us, they have usually hit bottom,” said Cliff Hoffman, director of the juvenile detention center, explaining that offenses such as robbery, sexual assault and arson are not uncommon.
Hoffman believes the books fill an important need as the juveniles’ stays can last up to three weeks. “We encourage them to read in their cells because they aren’t allowed anything else,” he said. “That’s pretty much their only form of entertainment.”
The director said he is often pleasantly surprised how some juveniles, once uninterested in reading, will complete multiple books during their visit.
The Scranton School District oversees the educational instruction at the detention center, and superintendent Bill King commended the University for involving the center.
“To get these books into their hands, it’s a wonderful thing that you’ve done here,” said King, addressing the crowd following the official blessing by University President Kevin P. Quinn, S.J. “It’s great when the University and the school district can work together.
Although the majority of books are distributed locally, the books often travel throughout the world. In fact, “Blessing” books have ended up in such far off places as Haiti, St. Michaels, Ariz., and Appalachia.
In its six years, the annual book collection has distributed more than 16,000 books.