Advocating for libraries and strengthening communities

With 20 branches throughout the region, the Kent District Library (KDL) has served nearly 440,000 residents. Now it’s the community’s turn to help increase the number of people who benefit from the Library’s materials, resources and annual programming. KDL’s Literacy Libations Gala will be Tuesday, Sept. 19, at the JW Marriott (235 Louis St., NW), with a welcome reception at 5:30 p.m., followed by dinner, a program and auction at 6:30 p.m.

Randy Goble, director of engagement at KDL, says the annual event is going on its ninth year, and has grown every year. 

Courtesy of the KDL Facebook page

The annual event raises money for programming and services at KDL often with a special focus, Goble says. One year, the library raised money for a new  Bookmobile. Another year, the focus was Mission:READ!, a third grade reading initiative, through which money was raised to make booster packs available for checkout. 

“We find that people just love to have a cause to rally around and literacy has been that great cause,” Goble says.

Last year’s Gala at Meijer Gardens saw around 300 people in attendance, outgrowing their venue. This year’s event takes place at a larger space, the JW Marriott, providing more elbow room and space to grow, Goble says. 

“The event will start with a reception so people have a chance to mix and mingle and have a drink,” he says. “Then we’ll sit down for dinner and start to have a couple presentations. This year, one of the presentations will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Talking Book & Braille Center that KDL offers for people who are blind and visually impaired.”

There will also be an auction with a number of packages, experiences and other things for people to bid on. Four authors will speak about their books, literacy and the importance of libraries to communities. Guests will also be able to meet the authors and get autographs.

Part of the evening’s events also include a recognition of a local Literacy Champion. Last year, Champions included Literacy Center of West Michigan and a nurse from Saint Mary’s Hospital. The Literacy Champion celebrates individuals and organizations nominated by the public who go above and beyond in the cause of literacy.

“We receive nominations for teachers, workers, library workers, people from all walks of life,” Goble says. “It’s awesome that people can be a literacy champion without that being their actual profession. A lot of people really are literacy champions and we want to celebrate them.”

The event is made possible with support from community partners, including event title sponsor Centennial Securities

Photo by Tyler Herbstreith

Jeff Wierenga, financial advisor and senior vice president of Centennial Securities, works with individuals and organizations on their financial goals. 

“Our goal is to help our clients through all phases of their financial lives by giving sound, individualized advice. We’re big believers in financial literacy and being actively involved in our community,” Wierenga says. “Centennial’s home is in West Michigan — our headquarters is less than 2 miles from KDL’s Cascade branch — and most of our staff and clients are local as well. Helping KDL remain a top-quality library system is in the best interest of everyone — strong libraries build strong communities.”

“They have been sponsors since the very first Literary Libations, and I’ve grown to know a lot about them and their commitment to the community —– it’s pretty remarkable,” Goble says. 

“We think it’s so important to support local organizations like KDL doing important work in our community,” Wierenga says. “Helping financially is just one way we can offer support. I have gotten lots of positive feedback from attendees at the event, thanking Centennial for supporting the event and KDL. They do so much beyond lending books and it’s great that they have a platform to showcase the services they provide.”

He enjoys attending the event each year and witnessing the room full of library and literature lovers gathered together celebrating the local library system and authors. 

“Every year I’ve been impressed by the authors,” Wierenga says. “Certainly, they wouldn’t be invited if they didn’t write well, but that doesn’t mean they can hold an audience. Nearly every single author has been entertaining with great stage presence.”

Photo by Tyler Herbstreith

Photo by Tyler Herbstreith

This year’s author lineup includes Thao Thai (Banyon Moon), Susie Finkbeiner (The All American), Stephen Graham Jones (Don’t Fear the Reaper) and Kevin Allen (Willie Horton: 23: Detroit’s Own Willie the Wonder, The Tigers’ First Black Great). 

Tickets and sponsorships are available online and a portion of the ticket purchase is tax-deductible. Top sponsorship levels include tables, VIP reception, valet parking, recognition and customized social media posts. Lower levels include tables and name recognition at the event. Individual tickets are $175 each. 

Goble says although there is no predetermined dollar amount goal, the funds raised have increased each year. 

“The Gala has raised $70,000-90,000 in previous years,” he says. “We're on track to exceed that amount this year, based upon ticket sales and sponsorships received so far. We're currently expecting more than 400 guests at the Gala, which is a record. I attribute this to a growing level of advocacy for libraries.”


Literacy Matters is a series focused on the importance of knowledge, community resources seeking to remove barriers to access and the value of our library systems to society. Literacy Matters is supported by Kent District Library

Sarah briefly lived in Grand Rapids years ago, before moving back to Lansing, but that West Michigan love never really left her heart. Through her coverage on small businesses, arts and culture, dining, and anything mitten-made, she’s committed to convincing any and everyone -- just how great the Great Lakes state is. Sarah received her degrees in Journalism and Professional Communications. You can find her in a record shop, a local concert, or eating one too many desserts at a bakery. If by chance, she’s not at any of those places, you can contact her at [email protected].
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