Pittsfield woman celebrates 50th birthdays by giving books to Crosby students
PITTSFIELD -- "I have a lot of ideas," said Jennifer Brennan of Williams Street. "They don't always come to fruition, but I keep trying. This worked."
What worked was an effort by Jennifer and her husband, Thomas Brennan, which resulted in more than 100 Crosby Elementary School students receiving new children's books on Friday night -- courtesy of a unique 50th birthday party the couple organized in October.
Jennifer said she'd been thinking about how to do something for the Pittsfield community, and she soon focused on methods of "putting books into the hands of children."
On Friday, about 160 excited children and parents attended an event at Crosby School for a spaghetti dinner and bingo in the cafeteria -- the winners picking up books as prizes from megaphone-wielding announcer Eric Lamoureaux, the school's community coordinator. Every child took home at least one book, Principal Donna Baker said.
As a child, Brennan said during an interview, "reading was not my greatest strength." And although she -- like her husband -- later became an engineer, Jennifer felt not reading more initially held her back academically.
But her experience gave Brennan an understanding of the need to "get books to children earlier, getting them comfortable with reading, so it isn't a chore but more of an enjoyment."
Today, she said, even some families that can afford children's books spend more time with electronic media, and lower-income families see the cost of books as prohibitive.
"My first thought was to have a bookmobile," she said, but with the twist that books would be given away to children, not loaned as with a library. "But every time I tried to think of a way to distribute books, there was an issue with the distribution or with a vehicle."
Eventually, Brennan said she focused on acquiring a large number of children's books and told herself she'd worry later how to distribute them. With Thomas and her both coming up on their 50th birthdays -- on Sept. 19 and Oct. 17 respectively -- they decided to hold a bash at the Wahconah Country Club and ask for children's books instead of presents for themselves. She had heard of such an event and decided to give it a try.
"We received more than 150 books then, and more since," Jennifer said.
After the party -- attended by about 120 friends and relatives -- more books continued to come in, some mailed from out of state when friends or relatives heard about the event, she said.
Brennan said she spoke with the Rev. Ralph Howe of First United Methodist Church, School Committee Chair-
woman Katherine Yon and others before deciding that distributing the books through the schools seemed ideal.
She contacted the central office and was put in touch with Baker, who explained about the school's annual Bingo Night, when there is a dinner and games and books are distributed to children.
"That was probably one of the most uplifting meetings I've had in a long time," Baker said of meeting Brennan. "She is very passionate about books for children."
In the past, the principal said, many gifts on Bingo Night were "gently used" books, but this year the books are new.
Brennan also praised Baker, saying, "Without her leadership, I could not have gotten the books to those children."
Thomas Brennan, who could not attend the bingo event because of illness, said in an email: "I am really pleased that Crosby School has such an excellent program for encouraging young readers by giving them books to take home. Donna Baker and Eric Lamoreaux are doing great work, and I am glad that Jennifer and I could support their efforts by passing along the books donated by our friends and family."
Since word of the donation has spread, "I think people are kind of excited about it," Brennan said. "Sometimes I get embarrassed when people come up to me and want to talk about it."
Brennan said she and her husband would rather remain as far out of the limelight as possible, as long as they can make a difference in the community.
In fact, Jennifer said, "the idea has started to spread," and people have told her they were inspired to hold their own event after hearing of hers. As for herself, "I'm not interested in this being a one-shot deal," she said.
The Brennans, 1981 graduates of Pittsfield High School, both work at General Dyna-
mics. They married eight years ago, several years after Jennifer returned to her hometown after living in Pennsylvania.
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