Blue Star Community Changemaker: Little Free Libraries

Published: August 10, 2021

Blue Star Community Changemaker: Little Free Libraries

Delivered by CSX Pride in Service

The modern American military is an incredibly diverse group of individualsmany are married and have children. Ensuring that dependent children have support and opportunities to thrive is a major concern for those who serve. In fact, the 2020 Military Family Lifestyle Survey found that “education options for children” is a top factor for the majority of active-duty service member respondents with children under 18 (64%) when considering preferences for their next duty station. But service members don’t always have much control over where they are stationed. At the end of the day, “needs of the military” often dictate where and when families move. 

Fort Campbell, located on the Tennessee-Kentucky border, is the third largest U.S. Army military community. More than 26,000 service members are stationed at the installation, with roughly 50,000 family members. But, with many Fort Campbell families living in Tennessee, it is troubling that the state’s literacy rates are at crisis-level lows, with only 34.9% of students reading on grade level.(2) And the COVID-19 pandemic has only made the literacy problem more worrisome. 

When the pandemic caused early school closures and states struggled to safely reopen and remain open, Tennessee leaders were concerned about significant setbacks in literacy improvements. As it turns out, their fears were warranted. Preliminary data collected by the Tennessee Department of Education projects an estimated 50% decrease in third grade reading proficiency rates, about 2.5 times greater than the learning loss students usually experience.(3)

What are we risking if service members do not feel that military installation locations will provide their spouses and children with quality opportunities? To put it simply, they will not continue to serve. Over a third (38%) of active-duty service member respondents to the 2020 Military Family Lifestyle Survey report that “concerns about the impact of military life on my family” is a reason they would choose to leave military service, making it the most common reason. If we don’t address the issues, mission readiness and the overall success of the All-Volunteer Force will suffer. 

The good news is that Fort Campbell and the surrounding Tennessee community have access to a local Blue Star Families Chapter, thanks to a partnership with CSX. In the two years since the Chapter launched, it has been working hard to deliver programs and resources that offer the military community opportunities to create connections and foster a love of reading. START (Serving, Thriving, and Reading Together), a six-week military and civilian book club initiative that is part of the Blue Star Books Program, helps to do just that.  And recently, a follow-on initiative, READY, launched for families who completed START and are ready for a greater challenge. 

“I think the book club programs resonate so much with the military and civilian community because they help build a sense of belongingness,” said Karissa Poe, Chapter Director for Blue Star Families of Tennessee. “They are able to share knowledge, referrals, and so much more with each other. The stories selected are not only relatable but also serve as a learning opportunity. The book club programs have increased the love for reading, creating excitement towards books. It means so much to me to hear from parents who report that teachers have noticed growth in confidence and reading skills in their child because of the book club.” 

START and READY, however, can only accommodate so many families at one time. 

Additionally, during the pandemic, libraries, and the book clubs carried out in them, 

struggled with closures and challenging restrictions. With so many military families desperate for access to resources and the continued need to improve literacy, Blue Star Families and key community members came together to deliver a solution: Little Free Libraries. 

The project required the support of Campbell Crossing, LLC, the on-post housing management organization, to provide locations for a Little Free Library throughout the on-post neighborhoods. Once Campbell Crossing signed off in support of the program, a build partner was needed to create each book-sharing box. To handle the build, Blue Star Families joined forces with a local Cub Scout Pack. Jeremy, the pack’s Cubmaster, served nearly 14 years in the Navy and currently serves in the Army Reserve. He is always looking for projects that will both support the military community and instill important lessons for the kids. 

“With one library on post, I know families find it difficult to make it to the library during open hours,” Jeremy shared. “The build project allowed scouts to experience working together as a team to plan, cut, sand, paint, and assemble the Little Free Libraries. They have so much pride knowing that what they built will provide service to our military communities and encourage and allow enjoyment of reading.” 

In total, the Cub Scouts built four Little Free Libraries to be strategically placed in Campbell Crossing neighborhoods. But Chapter Director Karissa knew it would take more than just installing these book-sharing boxes to make an impact. To ensure the Little Free Libraries reach military families in a meaningful way, Karissa recruited eight library steward volunteers who are responsible for ensuring the libraries remain stocked and cleaned. What is more, these volunteers will also utilize the libraries to host events that foster increased excitement around reading. 

“I’m so lucky to be a part of this program as a Den Leader for my son’s pack and as a Library Steward Volunteer,” Yasmina said. “It was so important for me to be involved because the little library program offers the community the ability to get out with their kids and go to a place where they get a chance to share an adventure. Kids who have a favorite book, get to share a story they love so much with others who could love it as well. Especially with military families who relocate so much. They get to have that little something to enjoy while waiting for their household goods to arrive. Offering a bit of normalcy during their transition.”

That’s the beautiful thing about the Little Free Libraries: they will continue to unite the community around a love of reading for years to come. “I hope the Little Free Libraries will offer greater experiences to the community,” Karissa said. “Whether that is a family trip to pick a book, sharing a story with family or friends or the chance to give back through book donations. I want these libraries to be an experience that serves in so many ways.” 

Cubmaster Jeremy echoes similar sentiments. “The Cub Scouts will continue to be involved with this program,” Jeremy shared. “These Little Free Libraries provide a unitedness among the community, inspire a love of reading, and spark creativity by fostering neighborhood exchanges of books. What a beautiful program to be a part of, and what a great legacy for our Cub Scouts.” 

The Little Free Libraries will serve as physical examples of what can happen when community partners come together in support of a common mission: empowering military families and creating a love of reading. Therefore, it is important we honor the program and its powerful impact. “Together with CSX, who helps fund Blue Star Families, including our Tennessee Chapter, we want to celebrate the Little Free Library program,” Karissa said. “I hope that the libraries serve as a jumping-off point, that the program continues to expand and benefits more and more families. As a mom myself and an advocate for military families, this program is something I am so passionate about and I am thrilled to be able to highlight our Little Free Library program as a Blue Star Community Changemaker.”

“CSX partners with organizations like Blue Star Families as we aim to serve our military and their loved ones, when it matters most, which includes providing important education opportunities for military kids,” said Bryan Tucker, vice president of corporate communications at CSX. “It’s encouraging to see programs like Little Free Library being implemented in support of the military community in Tennessee. In highlighting this great program as a Changemaker, we hope to encourage others to get creative and find ways to build meaningful impact for their military community members!”

Over the last year, Blue Star Families and CSX have been honored to recognize a number of Blue Star Community Changemakers. You can hear all of their heartwarming stories at  

Lastly, if there is a topic from Blue Star Families’ annual Military Family Lifestyle Survey that you are passionate about changing for the better, connect with us today. We would love to learn how we can support your journey to improve military life for yourself and others! #BSFChangemakers  

(1) Military OneSource
(2) Tennesseans for Student Success (TSS)
(3) Tennessee Department of Education 

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