LEIGHTON — It wasn’t that Michael Merriweather couldn’t have seen himself at the helm of a vital nonprofit organization, but he didn’t think he’d do so under the life circumstances that presented themselves.
A 2002 graduate of Colbert County High School, Merriweather always knew he wanted to give back to the Leighton community.
But when his best friend from high school and college roommate, Quinton Jones, died in 2010 from complications of a blood disorder, Merriweather knew it was time to start giving back. Right then.
He started the Leighton-based Dreams Expounded Inc, a nonprofit organization in honor of Jones.
“He had hemophilia and could have gone pretty much anywhere in the state to college but he went to Jacksonville State with me and was always there to help me out,” Merriweather said. “We would talk about how academics in schools often take a back seat to sports and other things, and neither of us want that to be the case in Leighton.”
In 2011, the organization raised enough money to award two $500 scholarships and one for $250 to deserving seniors. In the spring, the group gave out two $500 scholarships and turned its attention to also giving books to elementary students.
By March, the organization will have given more than 1,000 books to Hatton and Leighton elementary schools.
Last week, the fifth- and sixth-grade classes at the schools each received hardback books.
Leighton fifth-grade teacher Ashley Keenum said her students were thrilled to get their own copies of the novel, “The Battle of Labyrinth,” a book geared toward that age level.
“We read the book together as a class, and they just loved it,” Keenum said. “They’ve re-read it as they’ve kept the book at school. They were thrilled to get these really nice, hardback books.”
The book giveaway will continue, Merriweather said. Each grade level at both the elementary schools will continue to get books throughout the year.
In the meantime, Merriweather is dedicated to raising money to help his high school alma mater. The Colbert County High School library will receive books this year, compliments of Dreams Expounded, as part of the organization’s commitment to help with a fundraising project to purchase books.
Merriweather said his organization joined with efforts already under way at the school and through online collections to raise $540 to purchase books for the library. The school will get the books this year.
“Our goal is just to get these kids excited about books and their minds opened and when that happens things will start to change,” Merriweather said. “This is the best way we could think of to give back to the community.”
To learn more about contributing to Dreams Expounded, visit de-inc.org.
Lisa Singleton-Rickman can be reached at 256-740-5735 or lisa.singleton-rickman@TimesDaily.com.