Students give time, books to good cause

Literacy: An organization at Atholton High School in Columbia collects more than 3,000 volumes for needy children.

January 07, 2004|By Tawanda W. Johnson | Tawanda W. Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Reading has always been a part of Molly Frantz's life.

Books by C.S. Lewis and the Goosebumps series by R.L. Stine were among the 16-year-old sophomore's favorites as she grew up. Reading, she says, is not only a great way to only increase your vocabulary, but it's also a great hobby.

So, when Molly had the chance to help other children develop a passion for books, she jumped at the chance.

Through participation in SHOP - Students Helping Other People - an organization at Atholton High School in Columbia that meets weekly and performs 20 hours of volunteer service annually, Molly is making a difference.

Last month, the organization collected more than 3,000 books through a holiday service project to help needy children in Washington public schools.

"This benefits the community, and it makes everyone feel better to help others," Molly said.

The group became a partner with the Heart of America Foundation, a Washington-based organization that operates Books From the Heart, a program that provides books for children who do not have them at home and have limited access to books at school.

The organization finds books that are not being used and distributes them to schools and libraries.

According to the group's Web site - www.heartofamerica.org/books.htm - more than 20 percent of children in the United States live in poverty and, on average, have one or two age-appropriate books in their homes. Sixty-one percent of children in low-income families have no books, it says.

Those who don't read as children often become illiterate adults, according to the U.S. Department of Education. The federal agency's most recent available literacy report, from 1993, found that about 44 million adult Americans were functionally illiterate, meaning they were unable to follow basic written instructions, including filling out job applications.

Members of the Atholton organization did their part by organizing a book drive by putting boxes in their school's 12 English classrooms for donations.

Students donated books appropriate for elementary school and middle school children. The books were required to have been published no earlier than 1985. The students then sorted the materials before turning them over to Books From the Heart.

Some of the titles donated were The Chronicles of Narnia by Lewis; the Laura Ingalls Wilder books that inspired the NBC television show Little House on the Prairie, which aired during the mid-1970s and early 1980s; and The Baby-sitter's Club by Ann M. Martin.

The number of books collected by the students far exceeded the expectations of the group's sponsor, Allison T. Pastine, a counselor at the school.

"I thought we would collect maybe 500 or 600 books," she said. "When kids were bringing in so many books, it was amazing to me."

Pastine said many of the students involved with the organization are dedicated volunteers and have surpassed the 75 hours of service needed to graduate.

"I always tell them, "Don't just do this for another credential,' " she said. "I've been overly impressed with them ... of how genuine everyone has been. They really are a great bunch of kids."

Alyce Rasmussen, a 15-year-old sophomore member of the student group, said the service project "benefits children who aren't as fortunate. It also makes us feel better to help others."

David Calder, 17, a senior, collected 134 books - the most of any student - including some from his collection. His sister Anne-Marie, who graduated from Atholton in 2002, donated 40 books.

"We read a lot," said David. "We had all these books lying around. We felt that if someone else can enjoy these books, it's something we should do."

David's Advanced Placement English class exceeded all other classes with a total of 595 books collected, he said.

English teacher Gloriann Mehlman said she encouraged students to donate books by telling them it was a great way to clear out their rooms before they leave for college.

"They're all avid readers," she said. "We had a great time as they brought in the books by keeping tallies and discussing the different books they had read. It brought back a lot of memories for them."

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