Nearly 300 first-graders made a promise to read during Lebanon’s Gift of Literacy program, held on the College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific — Northwest’s (COMP-Northwest) campus in Lebanon, Ore. Tuesday, May 29, 2012.

During the two sessions, first-graders from the Lebanon School District received backpacks that included a storybook they picked out during the beginning of the school year.

The event inspires early literacy and the joy of reading by annually giving a new hardcover book to first-grade students.

Author and founder of Gift of Literacy, John Jorgensen, attended this year’s event and read the book he wrote in honor of his wife’s love of reading. Jorgensen founded the program 12 years ago in Casper, Wyo., after his wife, Sue, died in a 1996 car accident.

Dr. Rob Hess, Lebanon School District superintendent, who asked the audience to call him Captain Rob, emceed the program and introduced two special guests: Jorgensen and Linda Williams, a Lebanon author who read her book, "The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything," to a captivated audience. She wore a red dress, hat and cape.

"We think reading is important," Jorgensen said. "We’re here to tell you how much the community of Lebanon cares about their children, and to share with you the magic of reading. If you read, you become a prince or princess in the magical kingdom of books."

After students received their backpacks and books, they spread out to different rooms, where volunteer community readers, as well as COMP-Northwest faculty and staff, read to them.

The Lebanon Fire District provided lunch for the students.

The Lebanon community, COMP-Northwest, Lebanon Public Library and Lebanon School District helped sponsor the event.