Longtime Kiwanian works to improve children’s literacy ‘one child and one community at a time’

Published 5:36 am Sunday, August 1, 2021

Every Saturday morning from May through August, a few dozen vendors get up early to set up at the Starkville Community Farmers Market.

At one of the East Lampkin Street entrances, Richard Switzer, 72, unloads tables and boxes filled with books off his truck with the help of Laroy and Nan Rushing. They are all members of the Kiwanis Club of Starkville.

The civic organization isn’t selling anything at the market. It is giving away books as part of the United We Read program.
“We had a very good day, giving away 132 adult books and 134 children’s books,” Switzer said. “This was our best book giveaway so far.”

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Whenever it’s not raining, you may find Switzer and the Rushings, or any other Kiwanis Club member, helping people look through the collection of donated books and helping them bag a selection to carry home.

Switzer joined the Kiwanis Club about 35 years ago after a friend from his golf league asked him to attend a meeting. Joining the civic organization that way — through the invitation of a friend who happens to be a member — is usually the norm, he said.

“I had a friend I used to play golf with and one day he just invited me to come to a Kiwanis meeting,” he said. “So, I went and met some other people I knew. And I’ve been a member ever since.”

Getting books in youths’ hands is among the club’s goals.

“Our goal is to be volunteers working to improve the world, one child and one community at a time,” Switzer said. “And so anything that will help children — not just children, but the community as a whole — we try to get involved.”

Switzer earned his master’s degree from North Carolina State University. He worked at Mississippi State University for 27 years in the agronomy department before retiring. After that, he worked for the local U.S. Department of Agriculture office’s research service.

Many Starkville Kiwanians, including Switzer, have a background in education, as either teaching at the K-12 levels or at the university. Most members are retirees. The club, like many organizations across the country, finds it difficult to attract younger adults who are dealing with school-age children, he said.

With 35 years under his belt, Switzer continues to serve because he enjoys it.

“Part of it is just getting out of the house, getting involved with people and making a lot of friends,” he said. “I enjoy doing volunteer work.”

Switzer also likes volunteering with the club because it helps him stay involved in the community.

“Kiwanis (club) tries to improve a situation and make (the community) a little better place, especially for the children,” he said. “One of our mottos is ‘Serving the children of the world,’ but there are a lot of other people who need help besides young children.”

Switzer and his fellow Kiwanians also have been involved in highway cleanups, food drives and have worked with some of the schools. The club also hosts fundraisers that allow it to donate to organizations, such as the Excel by Five program and the Starkville Public Library.

All United We Read Program books are donated. The club has thousands of books and tries to bring a different selection to the farmers market each weekend, Switzer said.

“We had (MSU athletic director) John Cohen’s wife pull up when we were setting up and gave us four full boxes of books,” Switzer said on Saturday. “So people donate books or we’ll get calls to go pick them up all the time. Maybe their parents pass away and are cleaning out the house, they’ll call us and ask us how to donate.”