Agency Spotlight: Boxcar Books

Be an Advocate with Boxcar

By: Mercedez McDowell

Tonight's news featured a 75-year-old inmate serving a life sentence for murdering his girlfriend when he was nineteen. So, does he spend his time lifting weights or playing basketball in the jail yard? "No," he tells a reporter, "I just love to read." Put yourself in that inmate's position. Wouldn't you love it if someone could see you as more than just a criminal, and treat you as if they cared?

Boxcar Volunteer A volunteer stocks the shelves during Boxcar Books' recent move The good news is Boxcar Books and Community Center is full of people who care. As an all-volunteer organization, the Boxcar staff consists of self-motivated people with a desire to be involved in the entire community. Volunteer Coordinator Taylor Dean said, "Boxcar's mission is to provide literature through independent media, literature that isn't found in other places."

Dean said the Midwest Pages to Prisoners Project (MPP) is her favorite. The project promotes self-education and prisoners' rights by sending books to prisoners every month. Boxcar volunteers get involved in this process by reading letters from prisoners who request books. Boxcar then donates two to three books per prisoner to MPP. This way the project can steadily provide literature to prisoners.

Indiana University grad-student Virginia Arreola said, "I joined because I thought it was a good idea to have a bookstore that's non-profit, and to have a wide range of volunteer opportunities." Along with the MPP project, Boxcar is the host of several outside events. For instance, volunteers help authors present their books at special events. Boxcar also lends meeting space to other organizations during business hours.

As a nonprofit bookstore, a partner in the MPP Project, and a host to outside events, Boxcar is an all around community advocate. Arreola said, "Boxcar is more than just selling best sellers, it's about providing information."

Along with advancing the community, Boxcar ensures the comfort of its volunteers by eliminating hierarchy. This way, volunteers are in charge of the store. "You feel empowered," Dean said. "People even bring their own I-pods and add their own music to the store sound system." If you want to get involved in a community-oriented place that puts volunteers in charge, Boxcar is the place for you!

Some advice for volunteer coordinators:
"The most important part of being a volunteer coordinator is communication," Dean said. Following-up with people who express interest, and making sure they understand the mission of your organization is key. Arreola said, "I appreciate Dean as a coordinator because she enjoys what she does, and is dependable and efficient." So, coordinators, it's simple: just maintain communication, understand the interests of volunteers, and be dependable!

Some advice for volunteers:
Dean tells volunteers to be proactive! Especially with volunteer organizations, "it's nice to have people who can handle themselves." Also, volunteers should be at a place where they are comfortable and feel supported. "Boxcar is the most supportive environment I've been in," Dean said. There are hundreds of volunteer opportunities in Bloomington, so find a place that appreciates and empowers you as a volunteer!