Hidden Cleveland: Book Buddies pairs library, homebound
by CHRISTY ARMSTRONG  Banner Staff Writer
Jan 17, 2014 | 838 views | 0 0 comments | 27 27 recommendations | email to a friend | print
BECKY TORBETT, left, and Mary Ellen Stinchfield choose books to add to a red tote bag like the ones given to volunteers in the Cleveland Bradley County Public Library’s Book Buddies program. Torbett is a part-time reference assistant and former Book Buddy volunteer, while Stinchfield coordinates the library’s programs and volunteers. Banner photo, CHRISTY ARMSTRONG 
BECKY TORBETT, left, and Mary Ellen Stinchfield choose books to add to a red tote bag like the ones given to volunteers in the Cleveland Bradley County Public Library’s Book Buddies program. Torbett is a part-time reference assistant and former Book Buddy volunteer, while Stinchfield coordinates the library’s programs and volunteers. Banner photo, CHRISTY ARMSTRONG 
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Book lovers who have to deal with circumstances that keep them from visiting a library or bookstore might find themselves at a bit of a loss if they do not have a way to peruse the pages of new books.

However, a possible solution has been made available through a program at the Cleveland Bradley County Public Library called Book Buddies.

A homebound person is matched with a volunteer who can go to the library and choose books for that person. The volunteer then delivers them to their Book Buddy’s home.

Many of the people served by the program are elderly, but there are some who have disabilities that keep them from visiting the library. Before the match is made, Mary Ellen Stinchfield, the library’s volunteer and program coordinator, visits the person’s home to make sure they are really in need of help getting new books to read and not just wanting a convenient delivery service.

Stinchfield said she also tries her best to pair people who live in similar parts of town to save on time and gas money. Other things like age and gender are also taken into consideration. Once the buddies are paired together, she will accompany the volunteer on their very first visit.

At first, it’s a time of getting to know the person and their interests. Then, trips to the library to pick out books can become more of a routine.

Volunteers can keep up books for up to three months — longer than the usual checkout time. They are given special library cards that automatically give them the extra borrowing time. In addition to using it for their buddy’s book needs, Stinchfield said the longer time is also a perk they can use.

Those taking part in the Book Buddies program must agree upon how often new books are borrowed. Some visit every week. Some really stock up on the book selections and visit just once a month.

“It’s a great way to volunteer,” Stinchfield said. “You can do it at your own pace.”

Choosing the books can be challenging at first because everyone has different tastes in books. Some like the suspense of mysteries, while others are enamored by stories of romance. She said it is important to try to learn the buddy’s interests. Of course, librarians can help offer suggestions as well.

Stinchfield said many don’t realize the program is offered, but the vision of those who created the program is still relevant today.

Nine years ago, she became acquainted with the program when she began in her current job position. The program started as a partnership between the library and the local Friends of the Library Association, and the number of volunteers had dwindled and was “on its last legs.” However, she said the number of participants has grown since then.

Three or four people are currently being served, but a few pending applications are in need of volunteers to deliver books to them.

“I think they saw a need in the community for people who couldn’t get here,” Stinchfield said. “We serve a purpose for the people who miss coming to the library.”

Ruth Williams, a current Book Buddy volunteer, said she takes books to a 93-year-old Garden Plaza resident who shares her first name — Ruth Hill.

An avid reader herself, she said she has enjoyed having someone to discuss books with on a regular basis.

Williams, who is herself a widow, also said she has also been able to build a good relationship with Hill, and she was glad the Book Buddies program brought them together.

“Most people form really good friendships,” Stinchfield said.

A former volunteer, Dorothy Russell, said she also became friends with a woman named Elizabeth she visited for eight years as part of the program.

Instead of paper-and-ink books, Russell chose audio books to take to her because a battle with macular degeneration had left her blind. She said she checked out nearly 800 audio book CDs for her over the course of those eight years. A volunteer relationship blossomed into a friendship somewhere along the way.

Unfortunately, Elizabeth passed away in April 2013, at the age of 88. Russell said she is not currently volunteering with the program because she is still mourning the “irreplaceable memories” of her Book Buddy.

Because those on the receiving end of the books are elderly, ill or disabled, Stinchfield this has not been an uncommon occurrence. However, she said the program serves a great purpose for homebound individuals even if they do not stay around for a long time.

Books can serve as a great escape for someone who cannot physically travel, Stinchfield said. It allows them to pass the time in an enjoyable way. The potential for a new friendship could also improve a participant’s quality of life.

Both Williams and Russell said they would recommend the program because the benefits have outweighed any minor challenges they had at first.

“It was just such a rewarding experience,” Russell said.

If someone wants to become a Book Buddy, they can contact Stinchfield at 423-472-2163, ext. 141. All parties will be interviewed before being paired together.