Our Co-Founder: Pat Oplinger
After a long career as a school teacher, Pat Oplinger retired to Cherokee Village, Arkansas, and founded The Storybook Project of Arkansas in 1997. She served as a director until 2013 and remained active with the organization until two years ago when health issues curtailed her involvement. Pat remains passionate about The Storybook Project and continues to be an inspiration and valuable resource for our program.
The Storybook Project of Arkansas was inspired by Companions, Inc., a non-profit prison ministry organization established in 1986 in Illinois by the three nieces of Mary E. Best, who began tutoring former inmates herself. From that, she began taking books to the prison and recording the inmates. Companions' Aunt Mary's Storybook Project continues to serve families with incarcerated loved ones.
After reading about Companions, Pat Oplinger approached the chaplains at the Newport McPherson facility for women and obtained approval to introduce the project there over 20 years ago. Our program in Grimes, the men's unit in Newport, evolved from there. Literacy was a large part of the intent at the beginning, but touching the lives of thousands of children and inmates by keeping families connected during incarceration was and remains our primary focus.
Oplinger, who lives in Cherokee Village, started the program after retiring from a 39-year career in education. A firm believer that retirees should use their skills and experience to help others, she was searching for a way to do just that.
"So I said, 'What are you going to do with yourself, Pat?'" she said.
She read a story in the local newspaper in Cherokee Village about a couple hosting a discussion on their ministry with death row inmates and decided to attend. While there, a young woman approached and asked why she was there. Oplinger told her she was looking for a way to use her skills to help people.
"Long story short, she did hard time and she said, 'I think I can give you some ideas of what prisoners need,'" Oplinger said.
After talking with the woman and thinking about how she could help, Oplinger came up with an idea that combined her wish to help others and her love of teaching. Books seemed to be a natural fit, and that's how the Storybook Project came about. The project's motto is "keeping families connected through reading."