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Natalie's Everyday Heroes: Jim Benefiel of Next Door Milwaukee

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Next Door Milwaukee has given away thousands of books over the last 30 years through its “Books for Kids” program. Program manager, Jackie Shanti, said it’s important for kids to build their own libraries.

“Studies have shown that children who have books in their homes do better in school,” Shanti said.

Next Door is an early childhood education center serving Milwaukee kids. Twice a month, students get to come down to the school’s library and pick a book—not just to borrow, but to keep.

“They love their books. They hug their books,” Shanti said. “I've had kids kiss their books and say, I love you, book!”

Many of the books in Next Door’s collection are donated by community members. And there’s a special man who volunteers his time to clean and repair those donated books. The books start in a small room at the school, and that’s where Jim Benefiel does his work.

“Some of them are in pretty sad shape, but they're still good books,” Benefiel said. 

He carefully cleans, scrapes and repairs each book, making sure it’s in top condition to find a new home. Most weeks, he volunteers here Monday through Friday. He’s been repairing books at Next Door for three years, and repairs as many as 60 books a week. But his love of reading started long ago.

“My mother and father both liked to read and my grandfather, who was from Poland, spoke five languages. He would read just about anything,” Benefiel recalled with a chuckle.

He grew up in Kenosha and there wasn’t any television to watch back then.

“My motto was, ‘I've got a book and I'm not afraid to read it.’” Benefiel said.

Benefiel said seeing the looks on the kids’ faces is all the motivation he needs to keep going.

“I've seen a lot of them that just get a look of pure joy when they get a book,” he said. “’Oh, this is my favorite kind!’”

Shanti said she’s impressed with Benefiel’s dedication and attention to detail.

“Jim loves what he does and he's such a good volunteer,” she said. “When he's not here, he's volunteering someplace else.”

Benefiel hopes he passes his passion for books on to the kids.

“If you can keep them interested now, then, like I say, when they get older, it's going to make a lot of difference in their life,” he said.

Next Door is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. The school accepts new and gently used books to help kids build their own home libraries.

If you’d like to nominate someone to be featured on “Natalie’s Everyday Heroes,” just send Natalie an email at nshepherd@cbs58.com. Tell us about someone who’s doing good work in your community.


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