Alexia Ayuk, 17, of Gaithersburg, Md., a senior at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School, helped form a nonprofit organization that has distributed more than 14,000 books to schools in low-income areas, and to hospitals and shelters, with a goal of providing as many children as possible with a book on their birthdays. An avid reader, Alexia grew up reading nightly bedtime stories to herself and visiting a local library every week, at times “racking up a library card debt so high that I was unable to check out books until I finished paying the fine for keeping them too long,” she said. While watching a documentary her freshman year about the limited educational opportunities for children schooled in a large inner-city district, Alexia got to thinking that the only difference between her and those kids was that she had access to ample resources. “A book landing into my hands saved my life in so many ways, and the same could be said for victims of our failing and overtaxed educational systems,” Alexia said.
So when she was a sophomore, Alexia and three like-minded friends created a nonprofit organization called “A Book for My Birthday” to address the inequality gap in education. To obtain books, they appealed to family and friends, emailed potential sponsors, handed out fliers in local restaurants and libraries, organized annual book drives and held “teach-ins” to talk about the perils of illiteracy in disadvantaged schools. They also found a company that would sell them children’s books at a discount. After connecting with the principals of several elementary schools, Alexia’s team delivered books to their libraries and media centers, suggesting that they be given to kids on their birthdays. And when schools were not in session, they donated books to hospitals and emergency shelters. “By giving students a book, I can hopefully inspire them to remember that once they are handed that powerful tool, the possibilities are endless,” said Alexia.