Freedom begins in the mind, and one 13-year-old girl aims to liberate children the world over with a book campaign to advocate world literacy.
When she was only 8, Maria Keller took it upon herself to begin collecting books for kids. She founded her own nonprofit, Read Indeed, and this month surpassed her goal of sending over a million books to children in various parts of the globe.
Currently, Maria's running total is 1,032,067 books with a value around $4,000,000. She is being recognized for her immense contribution, as one of two youth nationally to receive the Jefferson Award, and will be honored for the "Outstanding National or Global Service by a Young American" at the National Award Ceremony in NYC on March 5.
"It's such a huge surprise. It's kind of crazy," Maria tells the Good News blog. "It will be important for how many books are coming in now versus how many more will come in after the award… it will change my life."
The Minneapolis 8th-grader estimates she is bringing in anywhere from 10,000 to 15,000 books a month, mostly from Minnesota, but from other states as well.
For Maria, the initiative began with a personal love of books and a desire for all children to have the choice to share in her fancy. According to the World Literacy Foundation, one in five adults cannot read or write, 57 million primary aged children are not in school, and 123 million young people are unable to read or write.
When Maria's mother told her that many kids didn't get to hear bedtime stories or have access to a public library like she did, she decided to take action.
"I wanted to fix it," she says.
Maria began by doing small book drives, but when she brought in 5,000 books early on, she changed her mission to gather a million by the age of 18. With the help of friends, volunteers and family, she has accomplished that goal much sooner, pulling in over one million books through drives around the country, and shipping them off to schools, hospitals, nonprofits, churches, medical facilities, and community outreach centers.
Thousands of Read Indeed volunteers of all ages help collect, count, sort, and send out the books. They are collected through local drives and drop-offs made directly to the Read Indeed warehouse. In the case of out of state donations, they are shipped to the warehouse.
Though experts approximate that "billions of dollars" worth of books and learning materials are needed to combat illiteracy, the fact that one girl, barely a teenager, tackled $4 million of that on her own suggests it is a battle that can be won.
"I have had a ton of help in the community and from all the people on my board," Maria says. "It's amazing that so many people can care about this enough to come and help. If things like this were happening in more places, I think we could change the world."
Maria counts the Harry Potter series and The Book Thief among her favorite novels, and says she's always been drawn to storytelling because of the impact it can have on the mind.
"It takes you off to a different place, a different world," she observes. "Also, academically, it's really helpful in all different subjects, not just reading."
To date, Read Indeed has reached kids in 30 states in the US and 13 countries around the world. Maria's next mission is to push even further.
"I want distribute books to every state in the US and every country in the world," she says.
Considering her imagination has already taken her to great heights, it likely won't be long before Maria meets this goal.
To find out more about Read Indeed, and how you can support it, check the website.