The clear intent of Culver Academies’ senior service projects has always been two-fold: the servant leadership rendered the community, but also the ability of a project to generate life-long service on the part of the students involved.
Mission accomplished for Ignacio Peon Zapata ’17 (Cancun, Mexico), who undertook the placement of a “Little Free Library” in Culver’s town park, adjacent to the Culver Lions Club train depot.
Zapata says he considered various ideas for his project before conversations with Nancy McKinnis, master instructor in Leadership Education, led him to talk with the local Lions Club.
When Zapata heard about the nationwide movement of Little Free Libraries — small, freestanding structures that encourage residents to “take a book and leave a book” at their leisure — he asked Lions president Susan Elizondo if the Club would support a local iteration of the trend.
With an enthusiastic thumbs-up from the club, Zapata encouraged fellow students to bring books back to campus from Thanksgiving break last fall. But he feared that students would forget to do so, which prompted him to ask his father to donate a pair of headphones to the student who brought the most.
He needn’t have worried.
“The girl who won brought more than 100 books,” he says, which fed into the total of more than 400 collected from the initiative.
Zapata next worked with Lions Club member Mike Overmyer to secure a permit from the Town of Culver for the structure, and with club members towards a specific locale for the “library.”
He located his ideal structure online and obtained permission from CMA Commandant Capt. Mike Neller and Culver Student Activities Director Kathy Talbot to raise funds for its purchase via a “civvies dance.” The Lions Club contributed the remainder of the funds and constructed a base for the Little Free Library.
Zapata carefully selected some 50 books representing various reading levels and genres, with another 100 to be stored at the Lake Shore Drive-based Lions depot as backups. The remaining books were given to Culver Elementary School and the Culver-Union Twp. Public Library.
Along the way, Zapata attended a number of the Lions Club’s bi-weekly meetings. He says his peers might be surprised to know how fun and interesting club meetings were to someone Zapata’s age.
“I ended up learning a lot from them,” he says. “They are all older people, so I was impressed how – even at their ages – they wanted to help others.”
The servant leadership model embodied by the Lions, he adds, “motivated me at my first meeting. They were really nice to me, and really impressed with the project.”
Elizondo echoes Zapata’s perspective. “We thoroughly enjoyed working with Ignacio,” she says. “Once he chose the Little Free Library as our project, he took it and ran.
“We really loved the reading aspect of this project and the fact that it can reach so many individuals. This is also the Culver Lions Club’s Legacy Project celebrating 100 years of Lions Clubs (nationally).”
Zapata notes his mother is “a really big reader” who taught him the importance of knowledge derived from the printed word. He also researched the educational and socioeconomic makeup of the area and felt the project would not only have the potential to expand community members’ knowledge, but be educational and fun as well.
His relationship with the Culver Lions Club and its service-minded members, he adds, has made for a lasting impact on him.
“They could be doing something else,” he says of club members, “but they were helping the community. It was a really good experience.”