TOPSHAM — The Topsham Public Library announced that this year’s Sarah Whitten Award has been presented to Don Sanders.

Sanders is a bus driver for MSAD 75, the President of the Merrymeeting Employees Association, and the originator of the nationally renowned, award-winning Bus Book Bag program at the Topsham Public Library.

In 2015, Topsham Public Library’s Board of Trustees launched the Sarah Whitten Community Award to recognize an outstanding contribution to the library and the community by an individual, group, or business. The award honors the spirit of Sarah Whitten, who donated her family home to the library in 1941.

Sanders identified a way in which he could enrich the lives of the kids on his bus and took a proactive approach in making it happen, using his connections in the community. Bus Books started when he took some of his own books to share on his bus.

The effect was immediate. Not only did the noise levels greatly diminish, but he noticed that the younger kids looked to the older ones to take the lead, and the older kids soon became reading mentors for the younger ones. Before long, his avid bus readers were running out of material, so Sanders enlisted Williams Cone Principal, Randa Rineer, who provided more books from the school’s library.

Once this proved successful, they wanted to extend it to other bus drivers, but they needed more books. A regular at Topsham Public Library, Sanders knew to ask Children’s Librarian Mariah Sewall. The staff at the library created “Bus Book Bags,” decorated canvas bags that are filled with books to be shared on the buses.

The Bus Book Bag program has grown from there. Thanks to continued community support and grants, it has transformed into a mobile literacy program that now serves more than 650 students on 13 of the district’s 30 buses and engages students in the power of storytelling, language and literacy. Sewall curates fresh collections of books every eight weeks for the Bus Book Bags and Sanders distributes and recirculates those collections every week on 13 school buses within the district.

Sanders and Sewall have received national attention as school districts and libraries reach out to them to find out how they can run this type of program in their own town. Sanders and the Bus Book Bags program was honored with the 2016 Maine Education Association Joan McGovern Education Support Professional Award, a 2015 WCSH-6 “Schools that Shine” Award, and the 2015 Giraffe Award in the Out of the Box category from the Maine Children’s Alliance.

The Topsham Public Library said they were delighted to add to Sanders’s growing list of accolades for his innovative approach in transforming our community. He took the ordinary, and made it extraordinary. He engaged students in learning, connected them to each other, and made his bus a whole lot quieter too!

Sanders will be honored at a special invitation only reception in February attended by his friends and family, Topsham Public Library staff and trustees, The Whitten Society (whose members contribute $120 or more to the Topsham Public Library annually) and other local dignitaries.

The Topsham Public Library is located at 25 Foreside Road in Topsham. For more information, call Topsham Public Library at 725-1727 or visit the library website, topshamlibrary.org.