MADISON — Seven-year-old Jack Theriault loves reading, and it’s not just because he might win a new bicycle.
“Reading books is always fun. I read when I go to sleep, and every day I read,” he said. “It brings you to different places that you’ve never been before.”
He should know. His father is Mike Theriault, 38, who started a reading incentive program. Called Bikes for Books, it’s organized by the Freemasons and carried out in local schools.
Though the program is in other states, it didn’t start in Maine until Theriault proposed the idea in 2006 to Euclid Masonic Lodge No. 194 in Madison where he is a past master.
After raising money from local businesses, the lodge gave away 10 bikes to voracious readers at Madison Elementary School in the spring of 2007. The Grand Lodge of Freemasons in Maine is a nonprofit fraternal organization often involved with community projects.
Since then, the program has increased exponentially as Masons around the state brought it to their own communities, such as Lubec, Caribou, Fort Kent, Auburn, Kingfield and Washington. About 30 Maine lodges are now involved, and last spring they gave out more than 500 bicycles, Theriault said.
Last spring, Masons at the Madison lodge gave 36 bicycles to students at Athens Elementary School, Madison Elementary School and Madison Area Junior High School.
“It’s just a marvelous example of what people can do with a good program,” said Keith Blackwell, of Madison, who has belonged to the Freemasons for 50 years. “We’ve managed to push this thing into something really quite big.”
In the program, children read as many age-appropriate books as they can in a set amount of time. They then complete small book reports, which are approved by a teacher and placed in a drawing.
There are two boxes for each grade level, one for boys and one for girls, so two children in each grade receive a bicycle, helmet and T-shirt. The more they read, the greater their chances are of winning a bike.
In addition to reading, the program also promotes exercise, Theriault said. “You’re working out your brain by reading the book, and you’re working out the rest of your body riding your bike.”
Theriault, who has been a Mason for about 14 years, said he hopes to keep expanding the program to more lodges and encouraging students to read more and more.
“Maybe a kid that read one book last year will read two books this year,” he said.
His 11-year-old daughter, Madeline, said she was surprised to learn she was the lucky recipient of a bike last spring. More students should read, she said, because “it’s a good skill to have.”
Theriault said the Madison lodge spent about $2,200 on bicycles last school year, and received donations from businesses such as Sappi Fine Paper, Madison Paper Industries and New Balance.
He purchases the bikes directly from Huffy, he said. Each lodge does its own fundraising and can adapt the program to suit its own needs. All donations go directly to the program; there are no paid positions.
He said if people would like to learn more they may contact him at bikesforbooks@myfair point.net.
Morning Sentinel Staff Writer Erin Rhoda can be contacted at 612-2368 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org