The word ‘leadership’ is written on a wall above the Estes Elementary gymnasium doors. This phrase serves as a reminder to students of their potential to guide organizations or other people.

As Kindergarten through Fifth grade students returned this month for the new academic year, curiosity centered around a new installation outside of their classrooms near the front office.

The mystery remained wrapped up until Wednesday morning when Bank employees joined school officials for the unique unveiling.

“To say that our partnership has been deepened with this surprise is just an understatement,” Independence Bank President Nick Oller expressed.

Bank employees began a reading program with Estes students more than six years ago. Pivotal in paving that bond was past Independence Bank President and current Board member Darrell Higginbotham. He was greeted with a synchronized “Good morning Mr. Darrell” from the small group of students after a year-and-half absence. The reading events were temporarily paused in 2020 during the pandemic.

“Just know you’re so cared for,” Higginbotham shared with the students. “All they talk about is you.”

Higginbotham, a volunteer, has created valuable connections with children as they have grown up. These companionships started taking shape at the same age as current Estes students. He remains in regular contact with three students today.

“To actually have people, with boots on the ground, and getting those relationships developed that are still lasting—I can’t think you enough,” Estes Principal Ryan Williams announced.

As the boys and girls ripped away the red wrapping paper, a fully-stocked Bank funded book vending machine was uncovered.

The purpose is to encourage, reward and incentivize students to take their love of reading home. Once meeting the criteria, parents are asked to sign off on the time spent with a book in hand. Students will be awarded with a token, allowing them to choose their next book.

Among the crowd to watch students test out this new technology were Holly and Dave Roark. Dave, a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor at Owensboro Health, has worked with a number of Estes students over the years. Their son, Jackson, was an avid reader who completed hundreds of books during his battle with Osteosarcoma. Jackson sadly passed away in July at the age of 13.

“I thought about all the places he hadn’t been,” Jackson’s mother, Holly, added. “But, then, I reframed that a little and thought about all the places he went through the books he read.”

Jackson, a huge Harry Potter fan, used reading as an escape. This imagination allowed him to go anywhere in the world. The teen envisioned places such as Narnia, Hogwarts and Ancient Greece.

Jackson’s love of literacy is the lasting legacy he leaves among his peers. The immeasurable impact is why naming this device in his honor was found to be fitting.

“I can’t tell you how much good it does my heart to see this machine, all these faces and know what he wanted is going to live on—especially in a place as absolutely special as Estes,” Dave said.

Jackson’s parents asked, in lieu of flowers at his visitation, that people consider gifting a new Kindergarten through Eighth grade book. A portion of their collection were donated to this venture.

“Each and every person that donated a book, I want them to know they were part of this today,” Dave stated. “And they’re going to be part of helping some child down the line and that’s just an amazing gesture.”

As of August, relatives gathered more than 1,000 books. The plan is to distribute them to local schools through an effort named “Jack’s Stacks” with the intent to inspire others to find a love of reading.

“One good thing about this is at least lots of people are paying attention now,” Dave recalled a conversation with his son. “Urge them to do kind things.”

Book donations can be dropped off at the Daviess County Public Schools Learning Center at 1700 Parrish Plaza Drive, Owensboro, KY 42301.