Nearly two dozen students at Bayside Middle School practically vibrated with energy as they gathered just outside their library to talk about their current book drive for the Peninsula Connections for Early Childhood’s (PCEC) 1000×5 children’s book recycling program.
All members of the school’s Youth In Action Team, they bounced on their toes, waiting patiently for their turn to speak as they related what it has meant for them to get involved in the initiative.
“It’s a really heartwarming experience, being able to give back to the community,” said Grade 7 Hailey Larose, overcoming her shyness to come to the front of the crowd.
A self-professed avid reader herself, Larose is clearly excited to be a part of the literacy campaign.
The 1000×5 program encourages families to read 1,000 books to their young children by age five and hands out countless bags of free books over the Saanich Peninsula to help them meet that goal.
Having that much exposure to the written word and stories at such a young age is vital to developing valuable life skills as children grow older, says PCEC.
And the YIA students agree.
“I know what it’s like to struggle in school and not understand something,” said Rose Chisholm, a Grade 7 at Bayside. “But I also know what it’s like when you do understand something, and it feels amazing. To help other kids get that feeling too, I feel so honoured to be able to do that.”
Rose and three other Grade 7 students were invited recently to see how PCEC sorts the books that get donated, and had the chance to meet the people who put in the hours.
“The women there were just generally nice people,” said Gabby Gladych. “Most were retired teachers, and so they know what kids like to read. You could tell they were so devoted.”
“And they don’t take self-image books, like Barbie books,” added Ella Hale. “They really cared about what they were giving out.”
“They make sure it’s a good book, that it’s not ripped or anything,” said Kate Roberts.
“This is especially important to them because they’re helping kids on the Peninsula,” said Shauna White, a teacher at Bayside who started the Youth In Action team six years ago after being inspired by Free the Children, and the organization’s focus on kids helping kids.
She took the original YIA team over to the first WE Day Vancouver where they were able to listen to life-changing talks by the Dalai Lama, Jane Goodall and others.
“They were so inspired,” says White. “This one boy spoke who had been a child slave in Africa and had escaped. There were 16,000 people in the arena, and you could have heard a pin drop.”
Bayside’s YIA students have since raised money to help Free the Children build school rooms in Sierra Leone, Haiti and Kenya, as well as supporting the 1000×5 literary program.
The YIA team gets kids from different grades and social circles mixing, and making friends where they might not have otherwise, adds White.
“I’ve actually heard them saying to each other, ‘I never would have met you if I hadn’t joined Youth In Action.’ They’re all different, but they’re all tied together with the same drive to help and make a difference.”
Students become passionately committed to the cause, White says.
“There have been times that they’ve come up to me with an issue they’ve just learned about, and want to do something about it.”
Case in point, last fall a handful of Grade 8 students became aware of the ebola crisis and spearheaded a coin drive that raised $550, which translated into $1,100 when the funds were matched by HBC through the Red Cross.
Locally, the team has been supporting the 1000×5 literacy program for four years and has collected thousands of books for families on the Peninsula.
The YIA team is collecting gently used books at the school, 1101 Newton Place in Brentwood Bay, until spring break.
For more information, visit peninsulaconnectionsforkids.ca/book-recycling.php or freethechildren.com.