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A Retired Teacher Embraces 80-Hour Weeks (Again)

 

Beverly Bradley loved being a teacher, but, like most educators, she rarely put in fewer than 80 hours a week when she taught—planning lessons, grading papers, chaperoning events, and meeting all the other demands of a devoted public servant. After teaching for 30 years, her only real goal in retirement, she says, was never again to set the alarm clock for 5:30 a.m.

 To begin at the beginning, I was a child of poverty. My remarkable mother raised five children in a housing project in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and made us understand that our “job” was to do well in school. As is the case with many parents raising their children in poverty, she knew that education was the key to changing our lives. As a result of her wisdom and the guidance of many dedicated teachers, I got that education and enjoyed a rewarding career.

When I decided to retire, I felt that I had a responsibility to contribute to the betterment of others. Enter “Cops ’n’ Kids”.  I still smile when I hear or read those words, because they changed my life in ways I couldn’t have imagined.

Cops ’n’ Kids was conceived by Julia Burney, a police officer in Racine, Wisconsin, to provide books to children living in poverty and to improve the strained relationship that inner-city children often have with police. Quite simply, she collected books, and police officers distributed them to children, building good will between the groups.

I liked the idea of improving the relationship between children and police—I just wanted to take it a step further and improve the relationship children had with the whole community—in our case, one that had been devastated by the loss of jobs stemming from the demise of Bethlehem Steel.

With the mission of “connecting kids and community through literacy,” we believe each book acts as a conduit. What a poignant symbolic gesture it is, letting our children know that the community cares about them and sending the message that we value their minds by giving them a book to call their own, sometimes their first.

My original goal was to distribute 1,000 books to students and to make this my “Thursday Project.” It seems that all retirees have Monday Projects, Tuesday Projects—you get the picture. Well, somehow I am back doing the 80-hours-a-week thing—and, I might add, loving every moment!

I think that inspiring mother of mine is looking down at me and smiling because she had this in mind for me since the day I was born. For whatever reason, I have been joined by literally thousands of like-minded individuals and countless organizations and companies (large and small) in our community in creating a literacy initiative that has distributed more than 460,000 free books so far. In addition, we have been able to unite the community to provide—free of charge—book distribution events in our schools and child-centered facilities and in our Cops ’n’ Kids Reading Room (ironically located in the original Bethlehem Steel headquarters). Local high school and college students, business and municipal leaders, police and firefighters, retirees and volunteers of all ages, and from all walks of life, join us in providing memorable events for thousands of children throughout the year—year after year.

My 80-hour week becomes a 100+-hour week this time each year as we hold our annual community-wide Celebration of Reading. Community leaders cook for the families who attend; reading stations are set up throughout the venue; and local athletes hold mini-camps for the children who attend.

And the best part, especially in these difficult economic times, is that everything is free—free food, free entertainment by children and young adults from local schools and colleges, free craft projects and demonstrations, and, of course, free books—last year more than 3,500 free books were distributed during the event.

Each day I am humbled to be at the “hub” of this beautiful effort, and each day I know that I am doing exactly what I was supposed to do in life—making a difference...and I don’t have to set the alarm for 5:30 a.m.

 

 

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May, 2012