The largest regional distributor of books to underserved youth in Western Massachusetts has a new president and CEO: Laurie S. Flynn took the helm of Link to Libraries late last month from co-founder Susan Jaye-Kaplan, who had served as president since the nonprofit was founded in 2008.
"She is an experienced leader who brings a great mix of leadership, inspiration, operational experience and, most importantly, a love and passion for literacy and children," Jaye-Kaplan says of her successor.
Flynn sees her new job is an opportunity to use all of the skills she has honed and unite them with her passion for children's literature and literacy.
"Having volunteered for Link to Libraries for years, I knew what a well-run organization it was, with dedicated volunteers who are passionate about the Link to Libraries mission," Flynn says.
Many of the children the organization has helped had never previously owned a book, so the books they receive are the beginning of building a home library. Link to Libraries has donated more than 500,000 new books and 5,000 gently used books to children, school libraries and agencies that assist children in need up and own the Pioneer Valley and into Connecticut.
Asked what she brings to Link to Libraries, Flynn notes her passion for children's literacy initiatives. "I truly believe that books can change the world. By sharing a love of reading and writing with children, you are setting them up for a better chance at success in school and in life," she said. "Books open doors to possibility."
Flynn has more than 20 years of experience acting as a spokesperson, working with the media, event planning and fundraising as well as strong organizational skills.
She spent about a decade in Washington, D.C., on Capitol Hill, first as a press secretary in the U.S. Senate and later as special assistant to both the secretary of the Senate and the clerk of the House of Representatives.
Flynn worked for the American Heart Association in Maryland and the Massachusetts' Reach Out and Read program. In 2013, she co-founded Red Mantel Communications, a boutique public relations firm that specializes in cause marketing.
Now at Link to Libraries, Flynn plans to continue current projects and to seek out ways in which to expand programming.
"For example," she says, "since reading and writing go hand in hand, wouldn't it be wonderful to inspire kids to share their own stories with their own voices? To become authors themselves, so that in the future there are more diverse books to choose from - books with characters that look and sound and experience things just like they do."
She would like Link to Libraries to help connect students and schools with authors and illustrators to serve as role models and mentors.
Flynn also plans to use social media to help make Link to Libraries a resource for educators and parents, sharing information on literacy, books and authors and to seek opportunities to collaborate with other organizations in the community
Her plans also include expanding Link to Libraries' Business Book Link Program.
"This is such a unique program because it is a true partnership and equally rewarding for both the schools and the businesses," she says. "It's far more than just writing a check; the businesses in our program engage with the schools they support. They take classes on field trips, purchase coats and mittens for children who need them in the winter, bring them on tours of their businesses, read in their classrooms. They serve as role models and teach these kids that they matter."
Flynn volunteers as a reader for children in underprivileged schools through Links to Libraries. She received her bachelor's degree in English and government from Colby College in Waterville, Maine, and a master of fine arts degree in children's literature from Simmons College in Boston. She regularly reviews middle grade and young adult fiction for the literary review journal Kirkus Reviews.
"Nobody will ever be able to replace Sue (as president of Link to Libraries), but I am honored that she and the board of directors have entrusted me with continuing the important work that Link to Libraries does and moving the organization forward," said Flynn, who lives in Longmeadow with her family.