Student Volunteers Help Give the Gift of Reading

By Jessica Lyons


Throughout its 14 years, BookEnds has worked with more than 270,000 students to donate 2.36 million books to 600,000 low-income students. BookEnds Associate Director Gayle Baigelman explains how students are helping to make a difference and why there is such a strong need for more books. BookEnds got its start thanks to an idea by 8-year-old Brandon Keefe in 1998. What made Robin Keefe decide to turn her son's idea into a whole organization, and how involved is Brandon with the organization now?

Gayle Baigelman: Brandon's simple act of generosity inspired Robin to create BookEnds, where students recycle their gently used children's books directly into the hands of thousands of Los Angeles' underserved students who have little to no access to books, providing them the vital resources they need to read. BookEnds became a project of Community Partners in 1998 and an independent non-profit organization in 2002.

Time has gone by and Brandon is now a 27-year-old professional in the renewal energy industry. At 16, Brandon recognized that BookEnds' core value was giving students the opportunity to make a difference in their community starting at a young age. Brandon continued to serve on the BookEnds Board of Directors but passed on the spokesperson role to younger students involved in the program. Today Brandon, residing in San Francisco, serves as an honorary member of the BookEnds Board of Directors. The Board currently consists of 21 members, three of whom are students aged 13, 15 and 17 who collectively have been involved in BookEnds for 11 years. BookEnds works with student volunteers. How does being involved with collecting books for other children impact these students and the way they view education/reading?

GB: Central to BookEnds is our belief that every child has the power to positively impact their community, they simply need to be given an opportunity to do so. Our experience has been that if you walk into any group of children aged 7 years old and older and ask them what they are reading, they get very excited to tell you about it. Then if you tell them that children who live not too far from them don't have enough books to learn to read, they come up with the idea to recycle their home libraries. When they get personally involved in telling their friends to donate their books, sort the books and then physically deliver the books into the hands of the recipient students, magic happens. The donor students see the impact of their actions, they see the value of books through another child's eyes, and they understand their own power to make a difference.

BookEnds What does it mean for these organizations to receive the book donations? How do the students in these schools or organizations react to the books?

GB: We believe every child is entitled to learn and thrive to his or her greatest potential, and this cannot be achieved without reading competency. Access to books is fundamental to the development of reading.

The stark reality is that students from underserved communities are most affected, and in Los Angeles, these are predominantly children from low-income, minority backgrounds. These children already face significant challenges by virtue of the communities in which they live (e.g. low income, gang violence, high crime, high school drop-out rates). They are put at a further disadvantage when their schools do not even have the basic resources of books to encourage reading. It is our work to bring a brighter future to children who would otherwise be left at an extreme educational disadvantage. In the process, we introduce children to the power of impacting positive change for the greater good that plants the seed for a lifetime of community service. What is the biggest challenge that you face in fulfilling your mission? How can it be overcome?

GB: In order to scale our impact and grow our book donations, core financial dollars are needed to provide our basic operational costs. We currently engage 20,000 Los Angeles students every year in service, providing an estimated 35,000 students with books. We do all this with a very lean staff of four.

There are sufficient books in our Los Angeles homes that could, if recycled, provide every child in Los Angeles with the books they need to learn to read. BookEnds is a simple and economical solution to getting books into the hands of these students. With greater financial resources, we could successfully grow our impact and provide more literacy resources to more students! How can our readers get involved and support the work of BookEnds?

GB: BookEnds' greatest need is for cash donations to enable us to scale our organization to fill the need in greater Los Angeles and to help us expand to national impact. We also deeply appreciate the outreach of your readers to tell others about our work. We can always use volunteers to help us sort books and occasionally to support us at book deliveries. has made a donation to help BookEnds reach more young readers. Find out how you can do your part by visiting the BookEnds website.

In Pima County, Arizona, Reading Seed is working to help students develop their literacy skills.

Next: View Schools
Created with Sketch. Link to this page

Popular Schools

The listings below may include sponsored content but are popular choices among our users.

Find your perfect school

What is your highest level of education?