“Ads are fine, but we’d rather hang out with our friends”: Community outreach at Bookmans, Arizona, Part 1

In the arid, traditionally conservative state of Arizona, the Bookmans chain of second-hand stores promotes a progressive community spirit

Regular visitors to this site know my passion for community partnerships, bringing together the best of the business, public and non-profit sectors.

I’ve worked with media distributors, mining companies and a range of public and non-profit schemes to address social need and deliver business benefits.

This is why I got excited when a chance Tweet by Zoe Toft, showing a cute video of books in a domino chain, led me to Bookmans Entertainment Exchange. They’re an unusual Arizona retail firm which sells everything from books to musical instruments, housewares and video games – unusual because these second-hand dealers stand out for their sense of mission and commitment to community values.

This week, Bookmans awarded over $20,000 to school development projects in their region – offering no-strings funding to worthy educational causes in Tucson, Flagstaff and Phoenix.

Sheila Kressler-Crowley, a community outreach co-ordinator turned Marketing Director at Bookmans, joined me on the day of the award for a chat.

“Since 2007, Bookmans have been running Reading Challenges which encouraged elementary students to get through as many books as possible.” Sheila told me on Tuesday. “Arizona kids got through around 2 million books in those challenges, but we wanted to open up the competition to middle and high school students – and they can’t race through their reading the way younger ones can with a picture book.”

This year, the revamped Schools Challenge invited public and charter schools across all age ranges to pitch for funding to support creative and exceptional projects.

From an institution that wanted to improve playground access for students with special needs to another with plans for a kids’ cyber-café, more than 90 applicants were narrowed to a shortlist of ten before winners Cortez High School received their award on 6th March. You can find out about their project to bring more audio-visual equipment into the life of the school by going to this link at the Bookmans’ website.

For Sheila, the award – and the attention given to all entrants – is an opportunity to dispel the often negative portrayal of schools in the media. “It’s not just about budget cuts, or tension over test scores,” she said. “There’s so much in our schools which is unique and awesome. We wanted to focus on the positive.”

Bookmans’ community spirit goes beyond supporting education. The firm’s progressive commitments encompass free speech, literacy, animal rights and environmental protection. Next time Sheila and I will be talking further about how a firm can focus its community outreach work when supporting everything from women’s roller-derby to anti-censorship campaigning.

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