Books! One teen's gift to the young | January 6, 2012 | Pleasanton Weekly | |

Pleasanton Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - January 6, 2012

Books! One teen's gift to the young

Creating a better world, one book at a time

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

"Goodnight Moon" helped to open up the wonderful world of reading to Claire Williams, she recalls. Now 16, she is working to make sure that every child has a chance to share her love of the written word.

Her latest project, "I Am Grateful I Can Read," collects new books to give to children as a treat when they visit a pediatrician at Axis Community Health.

"I'm doing a book drive for children who don't have books in their homes," said Claire, who is a junior at Amador Valley High, as she gathered books in early December. "I'm doing this because I think these kids need help and I want to help them."

She reported this week that the drive resulted in 1,600 new books, collected through the Pleasanton Unified School District and the Cross Roads Association Girl Scouts. Both the Axis Development Director Valerie Jonas and the pediatricians were pleased.

"Most of the books we collected are for young readers between the ages of 1 and 9 years old," Claire said. "This program will allow children to have books at home so they can practice reading somewhere other than school."

"We will continue to sort the books over the Christmas break and then deliver the books in batches over the next several months," she continued. "Axis has a difficult time with storage so we have offered to help store the books over the next year.''

She plans another book drive in the fall to make sure that the Axis bookshelves are never empty. She expressed thanks for the generous donations from people in the Tri-Valley. An anonymous donor sent in $1,500, which allowed her to purchase specific books. By Dec. 20, she'd reached the 1,000-book goal and the books and donations continued to arrive.

Claire has worked at the Pleasanton library for the last five summers, volunteering more than 500 hours; last summer she started a program called "Read to a Teen," for youngsters in grades 1 to 3 to read to volunteer teenagers to improve their reading skills. It has continued during the school year on Sunday afternoons.

"The young readers show up at the library and can read to a teen between 1 and 5 p.m.," Claire said. "The teen helps the young reader with reading skills and reading comprehension. With all the budget cuts in the schools it has been a great way for young readers to get more reading practice. The teen doesn't read the story to the child, but instead encourages and engages with the child to help them with their reading comprehension."

"This program is not only a great way to give young readers an opportunity to practice reading, it also helps teens get additional community service hours through the library," she said. "A win-win for everyone."

"I have learned a lot about children and what motivates them to read," she added. "I have learned that one very important component to motivating a child to read is access to books. I realized over the summer that a lot of kids don't have books in their home."

She quoted a government report stating that low-income neighborhoods in the United States only have an average of one age-appropriate book for every 300 children.

Claire decided a good place to start distributing books was the young patients who go to Axis, which provides health care regardless of a patient's ability to pay.

"I am hoping that we can change the course of these young readers' lives by giving them the opportunity to do what I did and read great books like 'Good Night Moon' and 'Green Eggs and Ham' at home," she said.

In November Claire set up collection sites at Alisal, Donlon and Fairlands elementary schools, as well as at Hart, Harvest Park and Pleasanton middle schools with a goal of collecting 1,000 books.

"I put boxes and signs out. That way people knew when they dropped their kids off at a school that there was a book drive," she explained.

She also got notices put into the school newsletters and on the Harvest Park TV newscast.

"I am really amazed and grateful that so many people are willing to help me create these opportunities for children in our community," Claire said. "Many people ask me why am I doing this, saying, 'Is this your Girl Scout Gold Award?' I say no, I completed my Gold Award last year."

For her Gold Award, she organized a huge Christmas party at the Veterans Memorial Building last year for children in need.

"I just tell them it is really very simple: I don't believe we can wait for a better world. It is up to each of us to go out and create it," Claire said.

Donations may be made for her next book drive to Claire Williams; P.O. BOX 1182; Pleasanton, CA 94566.