Reading has always been an incredibly important part of my life. For as long as I can remember I’ve been surrounded by books, and my mom read to me every day until I could read on my own. At 14 I began to realize the incredible impact that literacy had on my life after learning some startling statistics: Over 120 million children around the world are denied access to a basic education, 1.3 million students in the US drop out of school, and children who don’t learn to read face extreme challenges for the rest of their lives, especially poverty.
I decided I wanted to help as many children as possible have access to a high-quality education and in 2007 I founded Breaking the Chain. I’ve been working toward this goal and urging my community to join me. Breaking the Chain seeks to break the bonds of illiteracy and poverty through education. Thus far, we have put thousands of new books in high-need classrooms across the U.S., built three schools and clean water systems for villages in Africa, in addition to creating a literacy center at a women’s shelter.
To maximize my impact, I use 5 main steps:
1. Learn about the need for literacy in the U.S. - It is critical for American students to read and write well. But many low-income households and classrooms in the U.S. do not have the funds to acquire books for their students, making it very difficult for them to practice reading, and therefore nearly impossible for the students to achieve literacy.
2. Partner with Scholastic - I reached out for help from Scholastic. They provided us with a list of great books which we could buy at low prices. With donated funds, we are able to buy about 250 books for only $500.
3. Fundraise, raise awareness, and inspire children to commit themselves to their education - I asked for donations from a variety of groups and individuals through letter writing, talks given to groups of students, friends, and family. We’ve also sought out grants from local businesses. People have been so generous and supportive. We have been able to provide over 20,000 new books to classrooms in high-need elementary schools.
4. Inspire community action through Partner Schools - We have worked to forge stronger community involvement by creating Partner Schools. Students have formed chapters of Breaking the Chain at their schools to raise money and conduct book drives to provide books for high-need classrooms. We have worked to encourage all students to become more engaged in their own education and to give back to their communities so we can reach as many schools and children as possible.
5. Donate books to schools - We identify classrooms in great need of books, and then we provide each classroom with 150-250 books with a wide range of reading levels and subjects to match student needs and interests. The books stay with the classroom for many years, so that every student who passes through that classroom will have access to a library of books. We focus on elementary school classrooms since that is the time when access to books is most important to achieving literacy.