When Savannah Rizzo, a student at Nikiski High, enlisted the help of her friends Mayzie Potton and Sarah Nash to start a local literacy program, she had no idea she would be shipping thousands of books to disaster victims thousands of miles away. “T-Books is a non-profit organization that we started to get new books free to underprivileged kids in middle schools on the Peninsula. Reading is great and important to everyone,” Mayzie Potton explained. A member of the I-pad, I-phone, Kindle e-book generation she likes real books, “If you love to read there’s a big difference between holding a book in your hand and turning the pages rather than having it on a Kindle screen and we feel it’s still important to kids that can’t afford new books to have the experience,” she said. At the time, she said the idea was just a way to get brand new popular books into the hands of local kids that couldn’t afford them. The trio raised thousands of dollars for their program doing a variety of things such as a stained glass Christmas ornament class at the Soldotna Library, ran an art auction, and sold lots of bake goods at community events. All three of these students had a passion for reading and couldn’t stand the thought that some kid would be left out of the wonderful world of books just because they didn’t have enough money for such a luxury. The program and its impact ballooned in ways they never anticipated said Rizzo.
When they first started, they would visit Kenai, Soldotna and Nikiski Middle Schools every quarter bringing in stacks and stacks of brand new books. These weren’t to supplement the schools’ libraries but rather to give away to students. Disadvantaged kids recommended by their English teacher would be brought into a classroom at lunch and were allowed to take home any of the brand new books displayed. “That book was theirs to take home and own,” said Rizzo.
Then this summer, they were awarded a grant from the Kenai Peninsula Foundation for $500 to continue their program. This freed up some of their hard earned money to help small schools within the district that normally don’t receive that kind of attention. On a beautiful summer day, Rizzo and Nash drove a 200 mile round trip to Hope School. Carrying in an arm full at a time, the girls donated over 1,500 brand new books to update that school’s library. “They hadn’t been able to get new books in years. Some of the books in the library were the same ones that were there when the now teachers went to school there. The students were really excited and it made us feel wonderful to share our love of reading,” said Sarah Nash.
Next, the three girls turned their attention to tiny Russian schools that wanted to participate in the Battle of the Books program but couldn’t afford all the novels that were needed. T-Books came to the rescue sending dozens of books to each school. “It was due to the disastrous flooding in Louisiana that T-Books expanded their program outside of Alaska. In East Baton Rouge, libraries like that of Brookstown Middle School were completely destroyed. Ninety percent of their collection deteriorated under four feet of water. In fact, that school was so badly damaged that students have been relocated to another building until at least January. Meanwhile, thanks to the community spirit of three Kenai Peninsula students, 350 Louisiana kids will have brand new books to take home while the school district tries to rebuild.” Tax deductible donations may be made to the T-Book project through the Triumvirate Theatre.