It has been a while since I have jumped on my stack of books and written about the importance of reading and how it can impact your life. Well, never fear friends, I am climbing back up at the moment. I am situated with my megaphone in hand ready to tell the dairy world.
    As the director of Hillsboro Community Advocates for Reading Enrichment and Success, a fledgling literacy program that is involved in my community, reading is one of my strongest passions. One of our longest running and most successful programs is our community read. The school librarian and I pick a book we feel is a good read, likely to make a positive impact on our community and bring about good discussion. The past three years we have partnered community members with the Hillsboro Middle School students. Community members and students read the same book (often times there is an adult version and a young reader), then come together to discuss it in small groups as a conclusion to the program. This has been highly successful with students enjoying discussing with adults, and our team of community members always has positive feedback.
    This year, the concept exploded to make last week one of the most fulfilling, unforgettable weeks of my life thus far.
    The condensed version of how this all came to be is the result of a cousin who reads, me wanting a book for veteran involvement, a spot on NBC’s Today show and having a brother who was a Marine.
    The book at the cause of amazing memories is “Craig and Fred: A Marine, a Stray Dog, and How They Rescued Each Other”. It had the potential to be a perfect fit for a community read book.
    I described the program to my brother, Tony, and asked him to read it. After waiting for me to finish, he gave me his report.
    “I was in Afghanistan at the exact same time, stationed about 10 miles away from him, and we had a puppy, too.”  
    I had my answer. Craig’s book had already given me more to know about my brother and his military experience. It could open the sealed doors to conversations with veterans.  
    I asked Tony if he would be willing to present to the students.
    He said, “Wouldn’t it be cooler to get the guy that wrote the book?”
    Indeed, it would be. So began my adventure into the publishing world, emailing people in New York and combating my anxiety with telling myself this is going to happen and be amazing.
    We found donors who cared about literacy and the connections we were making with area veterans and students. I secured a date of Nov. 1 for Craig Grossi and Fred to come to the area with stops at the Hillsboro High School, Cashton Middle School and the Tomah VA Medical Center.
    Saying all of those things are going to happen is one thing and seeing them come to fruition is a different story. In Hillsboro, with the help and support of special people, we expanded the community read to include all students in grades 6-12. Students were either reading or listening (read by Craig) via Audible. They were hooked to Craig’s story. The wonderful thing about his book is it is great if you have military connections in your family, if you are a dog-lover or if you are a human. All of us deal with struggles on some level in our lives, and Craig’s message of “stubborn positivity” is one each and every one of us needs to hear.     While the students were engaged in the book within the walls of the school, it was also making its way around town. From the table of senior citizens at the breakfast café to the chairs in the auto mart and Legion meetings to the beauty shop, people were reading and talking about the book.
    I was talking to everyone about “Craig and Fred”. I was at the American Legion meetings monthly with Tony. I was stopping people at Kwik Trip to give them a copy of the book to read. It became the epitome of a community read.
    Our book talk this past week connected 18 veterans and eight community members with students in small group settings to make lasting impressions. It was phenomenal listening to Vietnam veterans tell stories that this book seemed at last to give them permission to tell. It was an experience they seemed truly excited to be a part of. Craig, Fred, Nora and Ruby came to Hillsboro last Thursday and did not disappoint a single soul. The bleachers were filled with enthusiastic fans from sixth graders to silver-haired seniors and everyone in between. The excitement at having your book signed by the author and his dog was as obvious on the faces of students as it was on their teachers and veterans. Any nervousness I may have felt about meeting Craig and Nora in real life was dissipated the instant they walked through the school doors. I was greeted with genuine hugs.
    The time working on this project was fueled by passion and positive feedback from veterans and others as they read the book. This book was truly something special to bond a community. I have not stopped smiling for days, thinking of how something as primitive as a book helped me connect with my brother, and my brother with Craig, a guy who can speak his Marine language. “Craig and Fred” pushed me out of my comfort zone to help something positive happen for our community and gave me lasting friendships with so many near and far.
    Jacqui and her family milk 800 cows and run 1,200 acres of crops in the northeastern corner of Vernon County, Wis. Her children, Ira (11), Dane (9), Henry (4) and Cora (adventurous crawler), help her on the farm while her husband, Keith, works on a grain farm. If she’s not in the barn, she’s probably in the kitchen, trailing after little ones, or sharing her passion of reading with someone. Her life is best described as organized chaos – and if it wasn’t, she’d be bored.