Meet Annika Cushnyr, a 17 year old at Bosque School in New Mexico. She has collected 4,000 new and used books to start a “giving library” so the children and families visiting a local medical center can get free books to take home and keep. She began this mission after finding out New Mexico has a very high rate of illiteracy and that over 50% of the population is considered functionally illiterate. Annika soon discovered that buying books are not affordable for some families and visiting the library is virtually impossible. Annika began “Start My Library” as a way to help children and families develop a lifetime love of reading.
Annika’s concept was to provide books to children at someplace they visit – a medical center. She created a website and got the local media involved. Pretty soon, donations of new and used books began arriving from the community. In April 2013, the library opened with 4,000 books – mostly children’s books. These books are now available at the local medical center. Annika also began expanding her giving library to areas of Tajikistan where books are rare and English books are highly valuable.
These books are inspiring them to read and to continue to read, ending the cycle of illiteracy and opening doors in their work, education and personal lives.
I had an opportunity to ask Annika some questions recently about her mission and volunteering in general. Here’s what she had to say:
How did you get started with volunteering?
My parents are what got me started in volunteering. Every christmas and sometimes during thanksgiving and halloween we would send care packages to a platoon of soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan and I think that’s where I got my start. They have always been very supportive of volunteering.
How did you come up with the free book idea?
I came up with the free book idea after researching illiteracy in my home state of New Mexico. 46% of New Mexicans 16 years of age and older are functionally illiterate, this means they cannot read a chapter book. This led me to research the root causes of illiteracy and one of those causes is lack of access to books. Illiteracy is a cycle that is passed from parent to child. If a parent does not know how to read they can’t teach their child to read. The child will most likely grow up in a bookless home. By exposing children to books at a young age, before they begin school, we can spark in them an interest to read. The reason the books are free is to eliminate the economic burden of books. Books can be very expensive and I didn’t want money to limit a child’s ability to read. More information about illiteracy can be found at my website, StartMyLibrary.weebly.
How can children get involved in volunteering?
It is very easy for children to get involved in volunteering. Remember that volunteering doesn’t have to be a world changing project, it can be small, local, and easy. The easiest way for children to get involved is for their parents to get involved, make volunteering a family affair. Some of the common places families can volunteer is at soup kitchens and food banks which can be found in almost every community.
Where can they get ideas for projects?
To find ideas for projects look at the needs in your community. Is hunger a problem? Homelessness? Illiteracy? Choose a problem that is prominent in your community and chances are a program will already be in place that you can help with. If there is not something in place look for the root causes of the problem and create your own project.
How does volunteering make you feel?
Volunteering is definitely a rewarding experience. Emotions can range from a sense of accomplishment to gratitude but volunteering is guaranteed to teach you something about yourself and your community.
Share your most memorable experience while volunteering.
I think the most valuable experience I’ve had while volunteering is seeing how my project impacts other people. When you see that people are truly grateful for the work you’ve done everything is worth it. I have been in the medical center where my project is located for my own doctor’s visit and watched a little boy excitedly pick a book off the shelves of the library and run to show his mother. That was definitely a memorable moment.
Volunteering is a great way to get children, tweens and teens thinking about what they can do to make the world a better place to live in now and in the future. I encourage you to get your children and families involved in your community by volunteering.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards , a national recognition program for youth volunteers, has some suggestions on getting your children involved this school year:
- Putting together care packages for our armed forces, with encouraging notes
- Cleaning up a local park in need of a little love
- Spending time at a nursing home or retirement community
- Organizing a coat drive, as we head into the cooler winter months
- Putting together a canned food drive for local homeless shelters
- Becoming a mentor to a child in need
Need some more ideas? Find some great project options here. Don’t be afraid to get involved yourself!
Also, if you know a youth volunteer in grades 5-12, encourage them to apply for a Prudential Spirit of Community Award. (Click here for the 2015 application.) The deadline is November 4th. Awards are granted at the local, state and national level, and 102 State Honorees receive $1,000, and all-expense-paid trips to Washington, D.C., where 10 volunteers will be named National Honorees!
Now… get out there and make your community and the world a better place!
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