Project Books & Blankies This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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     When I was younger, I struggled to learn to read. Not only was this frustrating, it was embarrassing - I wanted to be as smart as my classmates. My parents tried different techniques, but for a long time, I just didn't get it! I remember sitting with a book under a cozy quilt while a family member patiently read with me, and then finally it clicked. Because I didn't give up, many new worlds have opened for me.

Based on my experience, I thought I could make a difference in the lives of other children who are either struggling to learn to read or simply don't have the resources. I did some research and learned that in Southern California, four out of five third-graders cannot read at grade level. This is a shocking statistic, and studies have proven that children who don't read at grade level by age nine rarely catch up. The causes include poverty, inadequate resources, and the lack of encouragement and positive role models. Because I believe that no skill is more critical, I have focused my efforts on promoting literacy.

I founded Project Books and Blankies in 1999 so that I could share the magic of reading with others. I thought the best way would be through the gift of books and a blanket to snuggle with while reading. I have spent countless hours designing and sewing colorful quilts to accompany the book baskets I deliver to classrooms, literacy programs and the needy. Since founding my project, I have donated over 10,000 books. After being contacted by an international relief organization, I sent 1,000 books to South Africa to be distributed by the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund. I have collected more than $100,000 in books, fabrics, supplies and monetary grants.

In trying to raise the community's awareness about literacy issues, I have spoken to many groups including Girl Scouts, Key Club conventions, Optimists, the Northridge Chamber of Commerce, and local businesses. In addition to running book drives, I have contacted publishers, bookstores and fabric manufacturers for donations. I have received grants to fund visiting programs, where I make presentations, share my story and hopefully encourage kids to stick with reading.

Perhaps most rewarding, I have encouraged other young people in my community to get involved. When I visit various programs, other high-school students help run activities as a result of my presentation. Book drives, special events, benefit weekends, quilting activities and special projects also provide opportunities for other teens to help.

I am currently working to set up libraries in the Learning Rooms of homeless shelters in the greater Los Angeles area. Hopefully, reference books, novels and other study materials will help kids maintain some consistency in their studies.

For the past several years, I have partnered with a bookstore during the holidays. Through the Giving Tree program, I have provided hundreds with brand-new books as gifts, as well as books each year to School Bags for the Needy so that underprivileged children can start the school year with a new book for their personal libraries. I also provide books for Calling all Kids and a local Young Moms and Dads Program. Books are the key to the future and my goal is to spread that message.

Since I began Project Books and Blankies, I have learned that I truly can make a difference. The response from children at the programs has been both enthusiastic and inspiring. There is nothing more rewarding than their smiles as they eagerly sort through the baskets of books filled with fiction, reference materials, mysteries, books about famous people, inventions and, of course, dinosaurs. When I make my presentation, I also show the children how I planned and sewed the quilt just for their program.

Through this community work, I have discovered a lot about human nature. The warmth and generosity of those who hear about my project has amazed me. There was an overwhelming response from children and adults when I taught quilting classes at a local store. Each participant donated a book and spent the afternoon sewing quilts. In the spring, I can always count on phone calls from many who, after spring cleaning, donate their gently used books. Business people have generously contributed by printing flyers, duplicating photos and printing labels for each donated book.

My goal is to take an active role in creating a better world. I once read a quote by James Barrie, "Those who bring sunshine to the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves." I truly believe that.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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