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School social worker raises money for 'book vending machine' in Beech Grove

The idea is to put more books in the homes of young students and the method is pretty unique.

BEECH GROVE, Ind. — It's a new way to spark kids' love for reading.

A counselor in Beech Grove is raising money through the website DonorsChoose to buy a book vending machine. The idea is to put more books in the homes of young students and the method is pretty unique.

Not pop, not chips, but books are behind the glass. Kids would earn the books through good behavior.

At Hornet Park Elementary, school social worker Melissa Keeley works with pre-K through first graders, helping children work through trauma and conflict and develop confidence and character.

Books are a big part of her lesson plans.

"We want them to love to read! I love books so much and I want them to have that," Keeley explained.

Another big part of her group work: rewards for positive behavior, like respect and responsibility.

When the "Happy Hive" cart rolls into the classroom, kids get treats and trinkets earned with points for positive behavior.

"Everybody is so excited for that," she explained. "Sometimes they get little things like slime or a small box of crayons."

Credit: WTHR
When the "Happy Hive" cart rolls into Mrs. Keeley's classroom, kids get treats and trinkets earned with points for positive behavior.

But Keeley wanted a bigger reward that fosters a love of reading: books that students can keep.

"I mean that's the whole idea, is we want them to have this book and to love this book," Keeley said. "We're trying to really encourage, you know, building your home library, having your parents read with you so that we are getting more early readers because for a lot of our kids this is the first time they've picked up books!"

So, she started a fundraiser online through DonorsChoose.org to buy a book vending machine.

"Yes, it is literally a vending machine," Keeley said with a laugh.

RELATED: Mrs. Keeley's book vending machine fundraiser on DonorsChoose.org

It operates on tokens and instead of spitting out snickers and sodas, this inchworm vending machine dispenses books.

Keeley said having books at home is especially important in her school, where more than half the students are in low-income households and many are dealing with trauma at home.

"Many are living in poverty and losing parents and grandparents. They don't have an escape when they're at home and a book that you love lets you enter a whole different reality and lose yourself in something," Keeley explained, "and we want them to have those opportunities they wouldn't have if they didn't have a book. When you have something that is yours that you can share ... with your little brother, or your little sister, or your mom can read to you at night, it means so much more than 'I have to give this back to my teacher tomorrow.'"

Credit: WTHR
At Hornet Park Elementary, school social worker Melissa Keeley is working on getting a book vending machine that will be used to reward students for positive behavior.

The overall goal is to reward young learners and instill a joy of reading early on.

Keeley still needs to raise about $5,000 for the vending machine by May.

She's also taking book donations (new or very gently used) to fill it up. She's been able to collect about 150 books so far.

If you'd like to help, you can drop off a donation at Hornet Park Elementary, 5249 Hornet Way, Beech Grove, IN 46107.

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