It felt like the perfect match.
Gail Sawchuk moved to Southport in 2018 and had been looking for a way to volunteer since the day she arrived. She transplanted from Colorado with her husband Pete and two sons and a ton of business and technical skills that she could apply to just about anything. She chose to join the board of directors of Friends of the Library Southport & Oak Island (FOLSOI) as membership chairperson.
Gail met Diana Fontinatos, then president of FOLSOI, in 2019 when her youngest son, Tanner, attended a robotics program at Barbee Library on Oak Island. Gail recalled, “I was impressed with the robotics program and Diana’s enthusiasm and commitment to the library. Diana and I could have talked forever about ideas for the library and all that FOLSOI had already accomplished. I’d been looking for a volunteer opportunity in my new community. Libraries and working with nonprofits for families and early literacy have always played a big role in my life. The FOLSOI mission was a perfect match.”
Gail, who remains passionate about early literacy and family engagement, and Pete have two boys,Tanner age 12 and Peter age 13. She said, “ We read to them every night, even way after they could read themselves. It was an opportunity for bonding and social-emotional development. It was always my favorite parent-child time. We continue the tradition today with audio books on trips.”
Gail firmly believes that parents equipped with books, resources, and information play an important role in preparing their children for success in school and life. Her boys are proof that she’s right. She said, “Peter is an avid reader like me and especially loves dystopian books. He was on the middle school’s Battle of the Books team for two years and appreciated being able to borrow the books from the library. Tanner prefers humorous books and the occasional fantasy.”
Membership chairperson was a good position for Gail because she could fit in the duties around her family’s busy life. The position is responsible for keeping the FOLSOI membership list updated, running the membership campaign, and distributing membership gifts. She said, “I enjoy the challenge of increasing membership donations, connecting with the wonderful members who support FOLSOI, and our small but mighty team of membership volunteers. And spreadsheets! I love spreadsheets.” Gail meticulously tracks names and addresses of members,renewal dates and delivery of membership gifts on a spreadsheet so grand that everyone is duly impressed.
Gail has a master’s degree in social work. She spent the first ten years of her career working with nonprofits that served youth and families. She brings way more than complicated spreadsheets to FOLSOI including fundraising, finance, program management, and strategic planning experience. She knows first-hand the commitment it takes to be a great board member.
Brunswick County has grown in population by 3.84 percent in the past year. The 2021 FOLSOI Voice of the Customer showed that Barbee and Harper Library patrons want to see an expansion in the collection, services and technology at the libraries. Even more eye-opening, the survey of middleschool students showed that only 51% visit their local library.
“We have a lot of work to do in that area. Friends’ memberships are nearly a quarter of FOLSOI’s annual income, so they play a critical role in supporting all of our goals,” commented Gail. “It has been two years since we’ve had a full house for our annual meeting due to COVID and as the traditional kick-off to our membership year that has been a challenge in terms of fundraising for FOLSOI. We’re excited about this year’s annual meeting with fantastic authors and programming lined up. It will be wonderful to reconnect with past members and welcome in new ones.
If you don’t catch Gail at a FOLSOI event recruiting new Friends, you can find her spending time with her husband of nearly 20 years and their boys who she says are “best friends but probably wouldn’t ever admit it.” Gail added, “I feel grateful that I married my best friend who is a true partner in life in raising our kids and running our businesses.”
And about the library, she concludes, “It is rewarding to bring my non-profit experience to the board. I’m eager to see what additional impact we can have as more in-person programs come back to the library branches in the coming months and with a new director who is enthusiastic about many of our same goals!”