Alexa Grabelle, 16, of Voorhees, N.J., nominated by the Volunteer Center of South Jersey and a junior at Eastern Regional High School, founded a literacy service organization that has collected 130,000 new and gently-used children’s books over the past six years to promote educational equality and foster a love of reading in kids from low-income households. When she was 10, Alexa and her classmates were encouraged by their teacher to read over the summer to avoid losing reading skills. Intrigued by this concept, Alexa did some research and learned that the “summer slide” disproportionately affects students from low-income households who often lack age-appropriate books. “I realized how lucky I was to have books at home and wanted to help others kick-start their own home libraries,” she said.
Alexa started with the modest goal of collecting books for one classroom, but ended up with enough for a whole school. Over the past six years, Alexa has expanded her reach to seven states and three other countries. In addition to direct donations to children, her books go to libraries, summer programs, nonprofits, homeless shelters and a children’s hospital. In addition to collecting, sorting and transporting her books, Alexa and her army of volunteers from across the country set up and run “pop-up” stores where children can fill a bag with free books to kick-start their own home library. Alexa also persuades companies and other organizations to conduct their own no-cost book drives for her project, and in some cases connects them directly with underserved schools. “Regardless of background, all children must have an equal opportunity to obtain educational resources and skills needed to succeed in school and life!” said Alexa.