Community Voices

Community, students help collect thousands of books for children in need

Siblings Andrew and Catherine Zurfluh share their love of reading with other children through Read to Learn Books for Free, a literacy initiative of Miami Book Fair in a partnership with The Children’s Trust.
Siblings Andrew and Catherine Zurfluh share their love of reading with other children through Read to Learn Books for Free, a literacy initiative of Miami Book Fair in a partnership with The Children’s Trust.

As Ernest Hemingway famously said, “There is no friend as loyal as a book.”

Books can make you laugh, cry, discover, and relate. And like a good friend, they can get you through almost anything life throws at you.

Sadly, they can also be taken for granted and sit on shelves unread for years. They could be in the hands of others without access to bookstores and libraries. Especially children.

But things are changing. During the past year, donations of new and gently used children’s books have grown dramatically. Through Read to Learn Books for Free, a four-year-old literacy initiative of Miami Book Fair, in partnership with The Children’s Trust, members of the community have stepped up book donations to ensure that all kids in our community have free access to books.

As of early July, there are now 55 Read to Learn Books for Free bookshelves, up from 40, and organizers say the books practically fly off the shelves.

“I’ve always loved books. It was my thing, my escape. I just couldn’t imagine my life without reading. I wanted to share it,” said Juliette Reichert, a junior at Doral Prep, in an email. Juliette organized a school-wide book drive, and teachers and classmates helped collect 1,400 books.

“Some of the books we collected were from our personal library, books we kept because we loved them, they were near and dear to us. But knowing that the books were getting into the hands of other kids, we knew our favorite books would find a new home, and would be treasured as much as we treasured them,” Juliette said.

Other schools with student-driven book donation events include: Ben Gamla Charter School, Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart, Casa dei Bambini, Conchita Espinosa Academy, Christopher Columbus High School, Coral Reef High School, The Cushman School, Dave and Mary Alper JCC/ECD, Gulliver Schools, Immaculata La Salle High School, Leewood K-8 Center, Mater Academy, Miami Country Day School, North Beach Elementary, Our Lady of Lourdes, PACE, Palmer Trinity, Ponce De Leon Middle School, Riviera Preparatory School, Rockway Middle School, Somerset Academy, and TERRA Environmental Research Institute. During the 2017-18 school year, the students collected more than 9,000 books.

Combined with community donations at book bins around Miami-Dade County and private donations, Read to Learn Books for Free has distributed over 91,711 books to children in our community from the beginning of the 2017 school year to the present.

The system works on two levels. Donations come in and then deserving children are able to select, and keep, books for free from the 55 bookshelves that are stocked weekly. The bookshelves are at various places such as juvenile court, community service offices, clinics, parks, and community centers.

“When I younger, I was an intense reader, I loved where books took me. I want to share that love,” said Carrollton junior Catherine Zurfluh, 16. Catherine and her brother Andrew, 15, a Columbus High School sophomore, have collected over a thousand books for Read to Learn Books for Free.

“I love how reading expands your mind, and helps you develop your brain for the future. I just loved coming home from school, and I would see the boxes filling up, and know that the books were going to be loved, as much I love books,” Catherine said.

Donation bins can be found at grocery stores, museums, libraries, bookstores, youth centers, police departments, and hair salons to name a few places. A donation from The Molina Foundation added 25,000 new children’s books to the Read to Learn Books for Free shelves.

“We feel extremely honored and very much appreciate this gift from the Foundation’s Book Buddies program,” said Amanda Giust, program coordinator of Read to Learn Books for Free. “Literacy is the key to progress for the Miami-Dade community. This donation allows us to continue supporting the success of children and families we serve.”

Books are constantly being collected and 5,000 are needed per week to meet the demand. Visit http://www.miamibookfair.com/ReadtoLearn/ for a list of bin sites. If you are interested in hosting a book drive at your school or place of work, write to agiust@miamibookfair.com.

First generation scholarships

Often times, first generation students are more motivated than their peers to do well in high school and get into college. But even when they succeed, the financial challenges they face actually going to college are simply daunting.

Florida Atlantic University wants to change that. Through the Kelly/Strul Emerging Scholars Program, full scholarships were recently given to 20 Florida first-generation students.

The program, started in 2017, has grown through increased donor support. Last year, four scholarships were awarded to students in the class of 2021 and this year 20 students, in the class of 2022, will have support.

FAU President John Kelly and first lady Carolyn Kelly, along with Boca Raton philanthropists Aubrey and Sally Strul, developed the program.

“Some of Florida’s most talented high school graduates accepted to Florida Atlantic University will never step foot on campus,” said scholarship co-founder John Kelly. “Not because they lack desire or are unwilling to work hard for a college education, but simply because they can’t afford it.”

Three of this year’s honorees live in Miami-Dade County. They are Megan Tongo of Alonzo & Tracy Mourning Senior High School in North Miami Beach, Luisana Munoz of American Senior High School in Hialeah, and Luz Brito of Hialeah Gardens High School.

Through the program, “students receive tuition, four-year on-campus housing and additional resources needed to graduate debt-free from FAU.” They join a support system called The Path that helps to ensure their success. Through The Path, supplementary tools, including career planning, mentoring, and financial literacy are provided to help the recipients through their college years into their post-graduate lives.

A former first-generation student, Aubrey Strul, understands the difficult burden of college debt and actively works to build the fund. The Struls jump-started the program with an initial investment of $1 million. Since then, generous donors have significantly increased the number of students the Kelly/Strul Emerging Scholars Program can assist.

Donations to support first-generation FAU scholars are welcome online at http://kellystrulscholars.fau.edu/give/. Or you can call 561-297-4897.

If you have news for this column, please send it to Christina Mayo at christinammayo@gmail.com.

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