Anik Willig, 17, of Miami, Florida, a senior at Coral Reef Senior High School, organized a weekly reading program at a homeless shelter, pairing student tutors from her high school with young readers to improve their literacy skills during a time in their lives when academic development is often disrupted. When Anik was in middle school, she volunteered at the Chapman Partnership Homeless Shelter to help put on a play and found that many of the children there could not read their scripts. “I soon learned that homeless children experience a lot of inconsistencies in their education as a result of often moving between shelters and subsequently switching schools many times in the period of one year,” said Anik. To address this issue, she created an organization called “H.E.R.O.” (Homeless Empowerment and Reading Opportunities).
Once a week, Anik and students she has recruited through various clubs at school provide one-on-one tutoring for an hour at the homeless shelter. She brings an assortment of books, allowing each child to choose an age-appropriate one. Also, to motivate them, she gives each young reader a token after 15 minutes of reading, which they can use at the end of the session to “purchase” a toy or other item from a gift shop she sets up. In addition to scheduling volunteers and working with the shelter’s staff to coordinate activities, Anik has organized several book and toy drives to keep her program well-supplied. She estimates that she and her volunteers have made a difference in the lives of several hundred children in her community, and has laid the groundwork for nearby counties to adopt similar programs.