Brooks Barry, 17, of Southport, Connecticut, a sophomore at Stanford Online High School, has donated more than 600,000 books to underserved communities around the world, along with school supplies, shoes, clothing and other necessities, through a charity he started when he was 8 years old. It all started when he and three friends started a book club and decided that after reading each book, they would do a volunteer project relating to the story. After finishing “Old Yeller,” the story of a dog, for example, they did household chores to earn enough money to buy pet food for an animal shelter. One day they visited a local library and found that thousands of books were going to be shredded. “We were horrified,” said Brooks. They took the books and quickly found a school that was “ecstatic” to receive them, he said. “We all immediately realized our true calling: sharing the gift of literacy with the rest of the world.”
Brooks’ organization partnered with schools to hold book drives, picked up surplus books from libraries, and appealed for donations at church and community gatherings. At first they distributed books locally, but soon decided their mission should include remote villages in Africa. Logistics were a problem until Brooks partnered with the U.S.-Africa Children’s Fellowship, whose founder agreed to pick up books periodically and ship them. Brooks’ foundation, called “Wonderland BookSavers,” also has held shoe drives for children in need overseas, given blanket-and-book kits to children’s hospitals, arranged an annual road trip to provide books to children on Native American reservations in South Dakota, and helped start a pig farm in a small Ugandan community. Brooks estimates his initiative has reached more than 500,000 people.