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Summer Slide? Not When You’re Armed with a Bag of Books

Image by Courtesy Alexa Grabelle

When I was ten years old, I learned about the educational summer slide which disproportionately impacts low income students who often lack age-appropriate books at home. As an avid reader myself, I was upset to learn that this loss of educational skills over the summer adds up over the years and can significantly disadvantage these children’s educational progress. When I discovered that children who lived just minutes from my home were among those students who would benefit from summer reading materials, I knew I had to do something. I started Bags of Books with the goal of helping to get books in the hands of children who needed them most. Bags of Books creates “pop-up” stores where children select a bag full of free books to create their own personal libraries.

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Through Bags of Books, I work to promote education equality, advocate for literacy and foster a love of reading in children. In the past five years, I am thrilled to be able to say that Bags of Books has donated over 75,000 books worth approximately $225,000. As I always say, Every Books Counts.

The Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award represents one of the highest honors in community service. I first learned about this prestigious award when another local South Jersey student, Marissa Hacker, won the award last year. I remember thinking to myself, if I work even harder to expand the impact of my project perhaps I would one day be able to receive such an incredible honor of being named a Diller Teen Tikkun Olam award winner.

Having recently won the award, I am hoping that the national attention my project is now receiving will enable me to help even more children receive age-appropriate reading materials. I plan to work diligently to convince even more corporations and organizations to join my efforts to promote literacy by collecting gently used children’s books to donate to children in neighborhoods with less access to quality educational resources. To date, Bags of Books has collected books in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and California. I look forward to expanding the project this coming school year to Arkansas, Missouri, Ohio and many other states. I have recently partnered with the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) Charter Schools that serve under-resourced neighborhoods. My goal is to provide as many of the 183 KIPP schools as possible with books for their students to take home to keep! Bags of Books has already had successful book distributions, read-a-thons and family literacy nights at several KIPP schools. I can’t wait to find volunteers to help collect books for as many KIPP schools across the country as possible.

I am incredibly grateful to the generosity of the Helen Diller Family Foundation. I plan to use the prize money to enable me to help my family in paying for my college education. Even though I am only 15, I am planning on studying business, and am particularly interested in social entrepreneurism.

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