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Board Members

Alys Culhane, Executive Director: Alys is the founder and Executive Director of the Bright Lights Book Project. Alys has an MFA in creative nonfiction writing from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and a PhD in English composition and rhetoric from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Alys lives off the grid with her five chickens, four horses, three goats, two dogs, and one husband. As the Executive Directorof the Bright Lights Book Project, Alys salvages, sorts, categorizes, cleans, and distributes books locally. She also keeps in contact with appreciative readers, sponsors, supporters, volunteers, and all others interested in this project. You can see her website here: www.alysculhane.com


Milena Sevigny, President: Milena is the Bright Lights Book Project Board President. During her day job, Milena is the Community Relations Program Manager for TOTE Maritime, and through TOTE is a BLBP partner. She has worked with TOTE and the BookWaves Book Coalition and has, witth the assistance of numerous volunteers, distributed books to several Alaskan villages. Milena, in seeing a commonality between our project and hers, continues to give us an assist in categorizing, cleaning, and distributing BLBP books and is also a board member of VCRS.

Bea Adler, Secretary: Bea is the Bright Lights Book Project Board Secretary and editor, a task in which she draws upon her many years of teaching grant writing at Mat-Su College and proposal writing for numerous organizations including the Mat-Su Borough and the Museum of Alaska Transportation and Industry. Bea is currently working on a memoir about her very non-linear life.

Sarah Welton: Sarah is is a member of the BLBP Board and the Pastor of the Church of the Covenant/Meeting House. Sarah has also served for many years as a Mat-Su Borough School Board and the VCRS board. Sarah has been instrumental in this project, having donated Meeting House space, which has enabled us to continue to clean, sort, and distribute books on a near-daily basis.

Pete Praetorius, Treasurer: Pete has a PhD in Rhetoric and Technical Communication from Michigan Technological University and teaches technical writing and public speaking courses at nearby Mat-Su College. Pete is is a founding member of the Bright Lights Book Project. He is our Treasurer, salvages books with Bill on Saturdays at VCRS, and distributes books locally. In addition to serving on the BLBP board, Pete is a board member of VCRS. He is the Project website designer.

Robert Wallis: Robert is a member of the BLBP Board and works as a mental health clinician for AKBH Child and Family Center. He is also a licensed practicioner at the Alaska Center for Spiritual Living. Robert is also a board member of VCRS.

Volunteers

We are always looking for volunteers to assist with salvaging, sorting, categorizing, cleaning, and distributing books. Right now we are also seeking a social media liaison. The following individuals have contributed greatly to this now very well-known community venture:

Bill Schmidtkunz: The owner of Matanuska Woodworks is a master craftsman who built our first two bookcases, which are in the Valley Hotel lobby and the Vagabond Blues hallway. His most recent bookcase for the project is a custom built bookcase for Turkey Red Restaurant. Bill salvages books on Saturday at Valley Community for Recycling Solutions and distributes books locally. The Sutton resident is also an accomplished poet: his poem “Laura” received honor mention (second place) in the 2021 Alaska Daily News contest.

 

Nan Potts: Nan and the words “community involvement” are synonymous terms. She has, for instance, encouraged others to follow her lead and try their hand at writing, sculpting, and acting. Nan salvages, sorts, cleans, categorizes, and distributes books. She designed our tee shirt logo and has written several articles about our project.

Lois Liebing: Lois is a former elementary school teacher. She is therefore very familiar with the genre of children’s books. She cleans and categorizes children’s books.

Sheila Aay: Sheila, who has a Master’s Degree in Literature, has assisted in sorting and categorizing hundreds of children and young adult books. She wears many hats, as became apparent in the November 2021 Festival of the Books when she gave a performance in which she, talking about genre, wore many hats.

 


Sheila as Dilly Dally

Hillary Saffron: Hillary is a local writer, stage entertainer, and actress who read the Christmas Armadillo at the recent festival of the books

Carol McNamara: Carol is a Sutton resident and past librarian for the Sutton Library. She has been involved with local literacy efforts for two decades. In the summer of 2021, she assisted in organizing two children’s programs, a BLBP auction, and a local reading at the Sutton Library. She also lent her artistic expertise to this project.

Sarah Gotschall: Sarah is an elementary school teacher at JBER. She has lent her literacy-related expertise to this project, by including BLBP books into her curriculum program.

A Brief History of the Bright Lights Book Project

The Bright Lights Book Project (BLBP) began in December 2019 when Alys Culhane and Bill Schmidtkunz (owner of Matanuska Woodworks) started salvaging books at Valley Center for Recycling Solutions (VCRS), the Palmer Recycling Center. A small store was created in the basement at VCRS, but the number of books quickly overwhelmed the limited space, so BLBP volunteers approached Janet Kincaid, and she agreed to pay Bill to build bookcases for the Valley Hotel and the Koslosky Building, which her family owns. There are now 20 plus bookcases in the Mat-Su Valley that we routinely stock, and we also give away books at various events around Southcentral Alaska and have shipped books to several villages and correctional institutions. (Northern Air Cargo and other air cargo carriers have donated space to send books to villages.)

We so far have received six grants (five since March 2022) to carry out this project. We recently received a grant from the Palmer Community Foundation for $1,500 to buy lumber for the Mat-Su Career and Technical High School shop class to build bookcases for schools. Into these bookcases we will place books that were given to us by the Mat-Su and Anchorage School District Warehouses. We also recently received a grant from the Mat-Su Health Foundation for technical assistance and board training and for architectural assistance for a new building we plan to place in downtown Palmer.

The BLBP acquired 501(C)(3) status in March 2022. As of September 2022, nine volunteers were assisting in salvaging, sorting, categorizing, cleaning, and distributing books.

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