Pam and Bill Behrje are huge fans of the Portage District Library’s services for children. With help from the Kalamazoo Community Foundation, the Behrjes have been able to provide targeted financial support that helps meet the library’s extra needs. In a recent conversation, they talked about their love of all things library.
PAM Bill and I established an endowment through the Kalamazoo Community Foundation with my brother and his wife, Roger and Jana Harrison, who live in Leavenworth, Kan. We called it the Grandmother and CIG Endowment Fund. It’s a Designated Fund we set up specifically for the children’s section of the Portage District Library. It supports special activities and programs that go above and beyond the library’s usual budget, like bringing in children’s authors, holiday events and buying extra books.
BILL We try to plug the holes that the basic budget isn’t able to pay for. For us, it’s all about loving children and reading and books. We know there are adults who need help, of course. But if you get a child into a library and reading early, you’ve got them for life.
PAM I’ve been a volunteer at the Portage library for about 30 years in the children’s section. My mother and father were big readers and I’ve been a reader all my life. When my parents saw what the Portage library does with kids, they were really impressed. They said to Bill and me, When we both go, we want you to do something for the library, especially the children and especially above and beyond their usual budget because they’re going to need it. My father understood almost 15 years ago that for the library to get anything extra, it would have to come from outside funding.
BILL Our focus isn’t just on books. I’d like the library to be seen as a safe gathering place for children and their families. I know social interaction like this is harder to come by in this era of electronic communication and the Internet. But I think there is value in children being children — interacting and socializing with one another directly, not through some sort of inanimate interface. There’s a function for libraries that can’t be replaced by computers and books online. One example is the activities the library puts on for home-schooled children. It gives them a chance to learn and interact with other children in a safe, structured environment with oversight.
PAM Every year, the citizens of Portage are surveyed and asked What’s the best part of Portage? And the library always gets number one mention. The staff work very hard there and when you walk in, it’s usually packed with people.
PAM Our experience with the Kalamazoo Community Foundation has been very positive, and they’ve made it possible for us to support the library the way we want to. You can trust them. So if you see something you care about that isn’t being addressed, step up, set things in motion, and get it accomplished.