About Us

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

Robert Wallis, President: 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 former board member of VCRS.

Sarah Welton, Vice-President: 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 on the 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.

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.

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 salvages books with Bill on Saturdays at VCRS, and distributes books locally. In addition to serving on the BLBP board, Pete is a former board member of VCRS. He is the Project website designer.

Pat Purcell: Pat has served on several boards, including the Mat-Su Borough School Board, Museum of Alaska Transportation & Industry, and Bishop's Attic.

Rebekah Dungan: Is a foster parent and is an indispensable in keeping project running where she sorts, cleans, and delivers to multiple bookcases.

Megan Farci: Is a Family Advocate for Chugiak Children’s Services (CCS), which provides the local Head Start Program.

Kaylan Gillum: Is a classically trained violinist.


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.


Bill with bookcase he build for the Valley Hotel

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.

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.

Sheila as Dilly Dally

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 35 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 12 grants to carry out this project. We received two separate grants from the Palmer Community Foundation and Matanuska Valley Federal Credit Union to buy lumber for the Mat-Su Career and Technical High School shop class to build bookcases for schools. Into these bookcases we place books that were given to us by the Mat-Su and Anchorage School District Warehouses.

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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