EVART – Jenny Rounds has done something that hasn't been done before.

Rounds, the Mecosta-Osceola Personnel Cooperative Early Literacy coordinator, created the Evart Reads program, an initiative to have a community where everyone can read, books are easily accessible and reading is part of everyday life.

During Monday's EPS Board of Education meeting, Rounds was recognized for her work by Mecosta-Osceola Intermediate School District Superintendent Curt Finch, as he presented her with check for $500 as merit pay.

Merit pay, Finch explained, goes to MOP Co-op staff members who go above what their job entails.

“The ISD awards it for innovation, cost-savings, resource savings and idea concepts that benefit the school district,” he said. “The staff members must then be recommended by a local superintendent. She has earned it.”

Evart Elementary Principal Sarah Bailey lauded Rounds for the time she has put into creating Evart Reads.

“Jenny branded the program Evart Reads, determined the training and vetting of mentors for children … she literally ate, slept and walked the program,” she said. “Whatever is given to her through merit pay, does not come close to the hours and time she has put into this program.

“This program would not be around without Jenny Rounds.”

Evart Reads began about a year ago, Bailey said, when she was trying to find ways to get books into the hands of children throughout the community.

In discussion with Superintendent Shirley Howard about Project Rising Tide, Bailey sought out a grant from the Osceola County Community Foundation to help make books accessible to children. She was able to purchase 5,000 books with the funds from the community foundation and sought to put them in area businesses.

“I wasn't real sure how it would work with putting 5,000 books into the community,” she said. “We started looking at maybe a mentoring program, and then, Jenny was hired.”

Bailey credited Rounds for coining and creating the Evart Reads program and getting the project rolling.

“She truly created the program from the ground up,” she said. “She was able to get us involved in the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, which provides a free book to a child from birth to age 5.”

Bailey also credited Rounds with helping get the Little Library program started, which provides books for children and adults to check out from locations around the city.

Rounds said the community response to Evart Reads has been very positive.

“It's been amazing,” she said. “The community volunteers who help out and the Little Libraries, it's really been a community working together. It's exciting and I'm blown away by the response.”

Rounds said the program would not have been possible without the community stepping up, as well as staff members at the elementary school being very supportive.

Finch added officials at the state level have taken notice of Rounds' work and the Evart Reads program.

“They are looking to duplicate it and take it to other places around the state,” he said.