Bonnie Harlow has been a dedicated and enthusiastic volunteer and supporter of Notre Dame School for children with mental disabilities ages 3-21, for the last 11 years. She volunteers at the school twice a week from 8:30-3:00 as the librarian. If it were not for Harlow, the students at Notre Dame would not be able to experience the joy of reading and being read to, that their normal peers have. As a result of this opportunity the students have developed not only a love of reading but a respect for books as well. This opportunity has increased the students’ self-esteem and enhanced their reading ability.
Every child in the school comes to the library once a week to hear a story and check out books. Harlow makes sure that the appropriate level books are out on the table for the students to choose to check out. She follows parents’ directives in terms of the types of books that the students check out and makes sure that the students experience a variety of reading types.
Harlow has made the library a bright and cheery focus for school tours. She is what our principal calls “Notre Dame’s Cheerleader” as she recounts wonderful stories about the school and the students, to all who happen to visit. Bulletin boards are decorated with themes in mind and theme books are on display on top of the shelves. The library is well organized and cataloged. She keeps up with and orders new books, tracks overdue books, and offers reading incentive programs to develop and encourage a love of reading.
She organizes a book fair twice a year to raise money for books for the library. She also started a wish list for teachers, which provides more books for classroom libraries. She keeps the teachers informed about new materials that could assist their classroom efforts. Harlow also recruits and trains volunteers to assist her in the library. She even works during the summer when school is out to update the library and catch up on paperwork. She does so much and is such a good spokesperson for the school that many people do not realize that she is a volunteer and not a paid staff person.
Harlow literally has taken on the Notre Dame School library as her life’s project, second only to her family and church. In many schools, special needs children are not allowed to check out books to take home because it is felt that they couldn’t benefit from the experience. Harlow’s work with the students has proven this wrong. The students have risen to her challenge and have developed a loving and caring attitude for the books. This quality will follow the students throughout their lives and provide an excellent leisure skill for them.
Harlow is a mother of five adopted children, all with some type of special need. Each of these children presented a challenge that she embraced with love and her “can do” attitude. She has dedicated her life to serve the needs of those less fortunate, not only within her family but in the wider community as well. In addition to her work at Notre Dame she is heavily involved in her church and has gone to Mexico for several years in a row to deliver Christmas gifts and supplies to the residents of some of the impoverished communities.