When Maria Keller was 8 years old, she had a vision to make the world a better place. How might she do this? One book at a time, was her response.
As a young book lover, she had asked her mother an innocent question: Why don’t other kids love books as much as I do?
Her mom, Maura, replied that some kids just don’t enjoy reading as much. Others, her mom continued, just don’t have books.
“That shocked me as an 8-year-old,” Maria, now 13, recalled, “and I wanted to do something about it.”
So she did.
Maria, with the help of her parents, started Read Indeed, a nonprofit literacy organization whose goal is to place books in the hands of children around the world.
“We started by having a small book drive in my church,” Maria said. “We eventually collected about 5,000 or 6,000 books. Then we donated those to St. Joseph’s Home for Children.”
Her vision to make the world a better place was inaugurated.
Maria didn’t just want to start a nonprofit dedicated to reading. The entrepreneurial 8-year-old set a lofty goal for her efforts: to collect and distribute one million books by the time she turned 18. To date, the organization has distributed nearly 1.1 million books, five years ahead of schedule. The distributed books have an estimated value of more than four million dollars.
Read Indeed books have found their way to 35 states around the country and to more than a dozen countries around the world.
Providing books to children is more than just a hobby for Maria; giving books to children who would not otherwise have access to them can have significant, long-term effects on their lives.
According to the children’s literacy nonprofit Reading Is Fundamental (RIF), two-thirds of children who live in poverty in the U.S. do not have books in the home. In addition, RIF notes that many public and school libraries are under stress to close or reduce their operating hours due to budget constraints.
Having access to books and possessing the ability to read play important roles in children’s development, thus helping to set the foundation for success as an adult.
Read Indeed collects gently used and new children’s books from individuals, churches, businesses, organizations, schools and any other group willing to provide the gift of reading to children around the world.
“We have a warehouse in Hopkins where we sort and count the books,” Maria said. “Then I will box them up and from there have organizations come in and ship the books out.”
A typical shipment might include an organization that contacted Read Indeed with a request for books. Once the books are collected, Read Indeed volunteers ship them from the warehouse or schedule a pick-up time if the group is local.
Maria is quick to point out all the help she has received over the years from classmates and friends.
“They helped out a ton,” she said. “We actually have a youth advisory council for Read Indeed. They help generate ideas and new ideas and programs for Read Indeed and that’s awesome.”
Even after five years, the number of volunteers continues to amaze her mother.
“It has been astounding how many people continually help at the warehouse, host book drives, send her books from all across the country and send her emails of encouragement,” Maura said. “I love seeing how many children and teens come and participate in sorting events. They really get into helping because it is a fun experience to be surrounded by thousands of books. The young kids/teens are typically our hardest workers.”
Maria has also heard from those who have received the books.
Mary Jo Copeland of Sharing and Caring Hands said on the Read Indeed website: “I just wanted to say thank you for giving books to God’s poor of poor children! I know God is using you in a very special way to bring His love to this broken world. You truly bring light to many dark worlds. God will always bless you.”
Claire McGlynn, an author, wrote via the website: “I am sending you a thank you note to thank you on behalf of all the children who are receiving Read Indeed books. Your gigantic book drive has already helped so many kids. You are a kind, thoughtful girl who is a leader. Thank you again for being so thoughtful of other kids who don’t have any books.”
Give as Jesus
From the beginning, Maria has been inspired by the example of Jesus in helping others. During the five years of Read Indeed, her mother has noticed how much Maria’s faith has grown.
“She has become very confident in her goals and her vision, and she often tells people that she believes God continually works ‘behind the scenes’ to make things happen,” Maura said. “Read Indeed is solely funded by individual donations so when Maria needs to ship out books to locations near and far, she relies on the adage ‘If God wants this to happen, it will happen’ and then she will receive donations to help offset the cost of shipping the books.”
As with any business, Read Indeed faces challenges and obstacles. Two in particular are the most common: raising the funds to ship the books and receiving an adequate supply of new books, since institutions like hospitals will accept only new books.
“So for us, new books are kind of like gold,” Maria said. “We always need more new books. Used books are awesome, but new books are even better just because it’s better to give the kids new books even if they don’t need them. I think it makes them feel better about getting them new books instead of used books.”
Starting and running a business is certainly challenging for someone so young, but it has also helped prepare Maria for life after high school.
“It’s definitely going to help me because I have a lot of experience already,” she said. “It’s such a big learning curve for me right now. I have learned so much about the nonprofit and doing all this sort of stuff.”
Her mother is encouraged by how much of the business she is learning—not just distributing books but the more intricate details of running a complex organization.
“She is learning how many layers encompass a nonprofit business,” Maura said. “She has learned how collecting and distributing books is one facet of the organization—the main facet—but she has learned all the other elements that go into running a growing organization. She leads her youth advisory board, and she leads the adult board of directors’ meetings as well.”
Despite being so young, Maria encourages other kids to grab hold of big dreams and see where they will take them.
“It doesn’t matter how old you are, you can really still make an impact on the world and do great things for other people, even if you’re extremely young,” Maria said. “Even if you’re a kid, you can still do a ton of stuff and really help people all around the world—to make a difference.”
Even though she has already reached her goal of distributing one million books, Maria is not done. Her new goal is to distribute children’s books to every state in the union and every country in the world. Does she think it will happen by the time she turns 18? Probably not, but she is committed to fulfilling that goal as long as it takes.
There is little doubt she will reach it.
Learn more at www.readindeed.org.
— by Scott Noble