About the Dictionary Project

The following is an excerpt from “Exploring Traditions–Celebrating the Grange Way of Life” a book by Walter Boomsma.

About the Dictionary Project

Since the Dictionary Project (also known as “Words for Thirds” in the Grange) has been mentioned several times throughout the book, it seemed appropriate to include some additional information about it.

I’ve always enjoyed kids, but my experience with the Dictionary Project set me on a path that quite literally changed my life. Handing out dictionaries to third graders led me to discover a passion. It therefore seems appropriate to dedicate a few pages to this worthy cause.

The idea for The Dictionary Project began in 1992 when Annie Plummer of Savannah, Georgia, gave 50 dictionaries to children who attended a school close to her home. Each year she continued to give this gift, raising money to help give more and more books so that in her lifetime she raised enough money to buy 17,000 dictionaries for children in Savannah.

Early on, her project attracted the attention of Bonnie Beeferman of Hilton Head, S.C., who began a project of raising money by selling crafts to buy dictionaries for the schoolchildren of Hilton Head and the surrounding communities. By 1995, Bonnie was getting so many requests from local teachers to be included in the project that she wrote a letter to the editor of the Charleston Post and Courier explaining the project and asking for someone to help meet requests from the Charleston area.

Mary French, who was already an active school volunteer even though her two children were still of preschool age, read the letter and decided this was a project for her. Starting with a few schools in Charleston and Summerville, she realized quickly that providing dictionaries to all the students in Charleston was going to require serious fundraising. She and her late husband Arno French formed a 501(c)(3) nonprofit Association in 1995, along with a Board of Directors. Arno served as president, Mary became the director of the Association, and The Dictionary Project was born.

The program has been adopted and refined by individuals, businesses, and civic organizations all over the country. Groups such as Rotary Clubs, Kiwanis Clubs, Elks Lodges, Granges, Lions Clubs, The Republican Federation of Women, Pioneer volunteers, parent organizations, and many more, have implemented The Dictionary Project where they live. Anyone can participate in this project by sponsoring a program to provide dictionaries to children in their community. The dictionaries are a gift for the children to keep. Sponsors give dictionaries and other reference books to children in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, 9 Canadian provinces, and more than 15 other countries around the world.

My personal experience with the project began when I was “elected” to represent the Grange by presenting dictionaries to the third graders at our local elementary school. I headed for school with the load of books and a sense of dread—expecting the kids to be bored and unappreciative of something so simple.

I left school that day feeling a lot differently. I’d grossly underestimated the power of words and how kids would respond. They were like little sponges, soaking up new information. I lost control of the presentation when they received their books. How could I compete with all those new words?

The kids taught me a powerful lesson that day. And I’m pleased that over a decade later I am still learning from them.

Valley Grange of Guilford has expanded their program to now include four districts and five schools. Several of those schools make a “Dictionary Day Field Trip” to the Valley Grange Hall where they learn about the Grange, their dictionaries and how to use them, and what it means to be a steward.

There’s a lot to like about this program, including how easy and affordable it is to support our kids on a very personal level. For additional information:


The Dictionary Project

P. O. Box 1845
Charleston, SC 29402
(843) 388-8375
(843) 856-2706

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