Teresa Gerald of Ridgeland, Mississippi, has always loved literacy. So she channeled this passion into volunteer work through Friends of the Ridgeland Library, where she has held the elected position of president since 2014, contributing thousands of hours of volunteer time.
Two times a year, Teresa manages, promotes and works the Friends of the Ridgeland Library Book Sale. When the library’s funding was cut by $110,000 in fiscal year 2021-2022, she led a fundraising campaign with Every Library Institute that raised $112,000 of emergency funds.
Teresa is not afraid of a challenge and faces all obstacles with a fierce attitude that comes from her experience as a leader. Read on to find out what inspires her and keeps her going when those challenges arise.
Describe your volunteer role.
I am a member of the Friends of the Ridgeland Library and have been since the early 2000s. I became very active in the organization when I retired in 2014, because I had more time. The main focus of what the Friends of the Library does is to raise money through used book sales and memberships. We’ve designated that money to buy furniture and fixtures that will be over and above our library’s budget, if and when the City of Ridgeland builds a new library.
In the meantime, we’ve used some of the funds to give the library some of the things that are not in their budget, like study tables and chairs. We replaced the refrigerator. We bought a vacuum cleaner a few years ago. So, different things that are needed, that aren’t in the budget.
We also fund travel and expenses for guest speakers. We contribute money every summer for the summer reading program. All of the board members feel that putting books and resources in people’s hands is critical to keeping a vibrant community.
What inspired you to start volunteering with the Friends of the Ridgeland Library?
I’ve always loved books; for as long as I can remember, books have been a part of my life. So that means I love libraries. A good friend of mine was active in the Friends in the early 2000s and got me to join, even when I didn’t have much time. Then she got involved in putting on the book sales, and I started helping with that.
Then, she moved and I ended up being responsible for the book sales. Then, I was on the Board of Directors. And that’s how I got involved.
The commitment and dedication and hard work and perseverance of our library staff in Ridgeland – this group of young people love what they do, and it shows. They walk into that library and they smile. They offer to help. They enjoy being there. They don’t get enough credit for what they do. I encourage people to walk into the library and say thank you to the people who work there. They help our community and meet a lot of the needs that aren’t met by other systems in the city, county or state.
Why do you think access to books is so important today?
I saw a quote: “A child who reads becomes an adult who thinks.” We need citizens in our country – and people in our world – who think. Reading enhances that. It gives us new ideas, different points of view. It takes us out of our mundane worlds and gives us things we’ve never thought about.
I like to see children come into the library with their parents to get their first library card. When I have the opportunity, I tell them, “Do you realize that with that library card and a book, you can go anywhere you want to go in this world, or out of this world?” Their eyes get big and they smile. I just want people to read and to learn.
Are there any future partnerships, programs or events that you are excited about?
We partner with the library every summer for their summer reading program, so we’re doing that this summer. This year’s theme is a response to the attempt of censoring our library last year. This is still going on in our state and many states around the country. We want people to realize that freedom is not free – we’ve got to stand up for it.
Of course, we also have our fall book sale coming up in October.
Why is it important for people to get involved with the causes they care about?
Volunteering lets us contribute to the community. As citizens in this country, we get to “give back” for so many of the things we’re given in this country. We have these freedoms, and volunteering lets us be aware of them for our personal edification, and also to remind others that we need to protect them and enjoy them.
Personally, volunteering gives me a great sense of gratification. My parents taught me growing up that it’s better to give than to receive, and it’s true. I feel so much better when I’m volunteering and giving time and energy. It gives me a sense of well-being, feeling better about myself and our community and our country.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Teresa? Find local volunteer opportunities.