Elaine Feaster is a seventh-grade student at Liberty Middle School in Tampa Palms who lives in Richmond Place.
She’s also a Cadette in Girl Scout Troop 1247 who believes in the Girl Scout Law. “It says to make the world a better place, and I want to do that for kids in need.”
She’s been a Girl Scout for five years, in a troop that meets at St. James Church on Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd. in Tampa Palms, and is comprised of 14 middle-school-aged girls from many different schools.
As a Cadette, she’s eligible to apply for the Girl Scout Silver Award, which requires her to complete 50 community service hours and to create a project that will have a lasting impact on the community.
So, she decided to collect books to help promote literacy, especially among underprivileged kids.
“We have to get the books in kids’ hands in elementary school when they’re eager to learn,” Elaine says. “It’s like riding a bike or learning to swim. You want to learn when you’re young.”
“I totally believe in what she’s doing,” says Elaine’s mom, Jane. “I was oblivious until Elaine started kindergarten at Clark Elementary and I overheard a teacher saying she had kids wanting to take books home because they don’t have any books at home. It blows my mind. It’s outrageous.”
In Elaine’s research, she says she found statistics such as this: Students who don’t read skillfully by the third grade are four times more likely to drop out of school; nearly 85 percent of youths who face trial in the court system are functionally illiterate; and the more types of reading materials there are in the home, the higher the students’ reading levels.
So, Elaine teamed up with an organization called Parents & Children Advance Together (PCAT) family literacy program, which provides free programs to underserved children to help them learn to read.
At that time, Elaine collected about 175 books, just from word-of-mouth efforts, and donated them to PCAT.
As support for her project grew, Elaine had to consider how to manage collecting even larger numbers of books, so she asked the New Tampa Family YMCA (16221 Compton Dr. in Tampa Palms), where she and her family are members, if she could set up a donation bin. Now, thanks to the New Tampa Y’s support, anyone can drop off book donations for elementary school students there.
In just a couple of months, about 1,600 books were donated through that bin. After sorting out cookbooks, calculus books, and others that aren’t a good fit for elementary school kids, plus setting aside some early education books that would be helpful for PCAT, Elaine still had about 1,500 elementary- level books to donate.
She gave them to Foster Elementary in the Old Seminole Heights area of Tampa, where she says 98 percent of the students receive free or reduced lunch.
“We actually donated more books than there are students,” Elaine says. “There are only about 500 kids, and we donated 1,500 books.” She says she was told the teachers would select appropriate books for their classes, so the students would be able to check them out from their classroom libraries to take them home and read, then bring them back for new books.
Elaine says she will continue to collect books at the collection bin until about January. While she’s currently only collecting books for elementary school reading levels, she encourages everyone to clean out their bookshelves and donate what they have to any local school or even the public library.
Elaine hopes to earn her Girl Scout Silver Award with her efforts for this project, then hopes to build on her project for the Girl Scout Gold Award, which is the highest award in Girl Scouting and is available only for high school students.
She says since she dropped the books off at Foster Elementary in September, she has probably collected an additional 500 books. She will be identifying another school for the next round of donations.
“I just want to thank everyone in the community who has donated books so far,” she says. “When I started, I thought my goal would be about 500 books. I didn’t expect more than that, but everyone in this community is so caring. Because you donated a book, a child can be a doctor or really successful in life.”
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