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Rotary of Klamath County and their organizing partners made much ado about reading Thursday.

The service organization paired more than 800 first graders in Klamath County, Tulelake and Dorris with books – with fanfare – during the 19th Annual “Klamath Cares, Klamath Reads” event held inside Mike’s Field House at Steen Sports Park. Students in home-based and private schools also attended the event.

Jim Witt, president of the Rotary Club of Klamath County, said the event promotes literacy through a major service project.

“In Rotary, we try to look at projects that touch a lot of different lives in the community, and this is one of them,” Witt said.

“This is our future,” Witt added. “Even though they’re only two-and-a-half-feet tall.”

A mighty presence

The first-graders may be small but they were a mighty presence in Mike’s Field House, showing off their dancing moves, the motions to the song “Baby Shark,” and testing out their lung capacity and singing voices as each school was called for roll.

Rotarians and students from Mazama, Henley, Bonanza and Lost River Junior/Senior high schools joined in on the fun in addition to volunteering to read aloud to first graders.

First graders heard a performance from Henley High School’s choir and Klamath Basin resident Katie Harman-Ebner, 2002 Miss America, who performed “A whole new world” from Aladdin.

Letting two young students wear her sash and Miss America crown on stage, Harman-Ebner shared her love for reading with students and encouraged them to get involved with summer reading programs through the Klamath County Library.

“You’ll find all sorts of wonderful words with wonderful meanings in the books that you will read,” Harman-Ebner said.

Books in hand

The 6- and 7-year-old students were given their books before numerous high school volunteers spread out at Mike’s Field House to read them aloud.

Christy Cox, in her 12th year bringing her Henley Elementary first graders to the event, enjoys the interactive component the activity provides her students each year.

Books are ordered in advance with each student’s name printed inside, giving students not just a book of their own, but a sense of ownership to reading overall.

“It’s a big day for them,” Cox said.

“It’s a real, sturdy library-style of book,” she added.

Many of Cox’s students from her first year of teaching first graders are now in college.

“I’ve had kids that went to this event when they were in first grade and they still have their books,” Cox said.

“They do remember it just forever,” Cox added. “It’s made a big impact ….”

Generational gift

Only feet away from Cox, Henley High School junior John Elbert read “Lola Dutch,” a book by by Kenneth and Jane Wright, aloud to a small group of students.

Elbert attended the event as a first grader at Bonanza Elementary and still has the book he was given.

“It feels incredible giving them the same experience I got when I was young,” Elbert said.

Elbert recalls keeping the book because he loved it and he had ownership of it.

“That might’ve been the only thing that was just mine,” Elbert said. “I shared a lot of things with my brother. It was nice to have that thing that was my own.”