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SKYCTC fan club uses Harry Potter to conjure community service

AARby AARON MUDD amudd@bgdailynews.com

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For some, fantasy novels are merely a distraction from everyday life. That's not the case for members of the Harry Potter Alliance, who use ideas and themes explored in the popular book series to fuel community service campaigns.

"What we re trying to do is just make the world around us a better place," said Bertena Varney, a sociology instructor and adviser for the group at Southcentral Kentucky Community and Technical College.

The organization formed in 2005 to put the enthusiasm of the series' fan base to good use, Varney said. The local chapter of the group currently has 11 members, not all of which are SKYCTC students. Group membership is restricted to people 18 years old or older and is $10 a semester.

Harry Potter Alliance members band together to support a range of causes inspired by themes explored in the beloved book series. This month, members are promoting child literacy locally by raising 1,000 books for its Accio Books campaign, which is named after a spell in the Harry Potter universe that brings objects to the caster.

Hayley Browning, a SKYCTC student and the group's president, said over 400 books have been raised already. The campaign only started this week and continues to April 28.

Browning said members are working hard to put books in the hands of students who need them.

"We feel like if we can just give a child a chance to escape the problems of the world that we re really helping them with their life," she said.

Although the Harry Potter universe features magic, dragons and other typical fantasy elements, fans say other aspects mirror the real world.

"The biggest thing overall is the inequalities in society," said Jackie Travis, a student at SKYCTC and the group's vice president.

In the books, young wizards and witches attend a school to learn magic and are placed into "houses" mostly based on their personalities and skills. For Travis, the houses mirror real world social classes, such as the rich and privileged students of House Slytherin.

An obsession with pure magical family bloodlines by some characters in the series also mirrors real-world racial ideology, Varney said.

Travis also said readers can also see what child abuse is like through Harry Potter, who is treated cruelly and forced to live in a cupboard under the stairs in his aunt's house.

Varney rejects the perspective that fantasy is inferior to other book genres.

"I see it as empowering and enlightening for people," she said, adding that readers can empathize with characters and see different perspectives.

As for the donated books, Varney hopes they teach kids to love reading.

"I hate that we make reading a punishment," she said. "It s just a world of discovery that we forget with all the modern technology.

For her contribution, Travis recently helped purchase 300 books for the campaign from a used book store in Nashville. She said her own stepdaughter has limited reading options in her elementary school and hopes the drive can contribute to middle school students.

"They re not quite teen yet, but they re still a little bit too old for the children's books," she said.

Varney said book donations can be dropped off at SKYCTC in Building C, Room 11. Books can also be dropped off at Red Door Puzzle Rooms at 2140 Old Louisville Road.

Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @aaron_muddbgdn or visit bgdailynews.com.