OAKLEAF – As the old saying goes, reading is fundamental. Unfortunately, in today’s digital age, most people don’t have the interest, patience or the time to devote to that pursuit.
One young man decided to help do something about this in his own small way.
Joshua Aquino-Garcia, a Boy Scout (he has been a part of Troops 25 and 33) pursuing his Eagle Scout ranking, wanted to bring what he called a ‘Free Little Library’ into the Oakleaf community.
The highest rank achievable in the Boy Scouts of America is Eagle Scout. Aquino-Garcia is currently a Life Scout. In order to be promoted to Eagle Scout, there were a number of requirements – one of which is “to plan, develop, and give leadership to others in a service project helpful to any religious institution, any school, or your community.” The goal of the project is to develop leadership by allowing the scout to be engaged primarily in the planning and coordination of the project and less in the actual labor.
Aquino-Garcia, with the help of many volunteers in his community, set out to do just that.
“People don’t read. That’s just the reality,” he said. “Getting more kids, getting more older people. Getting the community together on something that’s something good, reading. It’s food for the brain, people don’t do it. So, the community didn’t have anything to help out people with reading so I thought this would be a good thing to do.”
The free little library is basically a free-standing small building about the size of a few large birdhouses mounted on a pole in the ground with a door, where people can place books for others to read. The motto is “take one, leave one.” The goal is to encourage more people to read and to make physical books readily available in an easily accessible location. Also, unlike a real library, no one has to sign up or scan a card or anything like that. Very simply, open the door to the structure, take a book, leave a book, or both.
“I had tons of people donate things,” Aquino-Garcia said. “A lot of people donated their time. According to the reaction, a lot of people are excited about it, it seems like. A lot of people donate books.”
Some of the volunteers were: Gina Patterson, of Re-Invintage (an antique furniture refurbisher), which painted the Free Little Library; Proper Pressure Washing LLC, who did the trim work; and, Fast Signs of Jacksonville and Orange Park, which did the graphic design, printing and cutting of the signage.
There were also many individual volunteers who donated time and materials such as wood, the post for the base and concrete.
One of the biggest individual donors was the Ormonde family, who assisted Aquino-Garcia in the organization of materials and volunteers for the project.
The desire for this project had been there in the community for years, and there was even a Facebook group about it. Once Aquino-Garcia began attempting to put the project together, he found the group was already in place. That helped to advance the process with the support of skilled people and organizations.
Aquino-Garcia didn’t just do the project because it was a requirement for him to become an Eagle Scout. He embraced it because to him, it meant more than that.
“Get to know your neighbor. It’s such a big community,” he said. “Most people don’t even know who lives next to them. People are just all on social media. Read a book. Just do more things that are real-life.”