Fifteen-year-old Voorhees resident Alexa Grabelle has always loved to read.
“I realized that reading is really a way to open your imagination,” Alexa said as she recalled growing up in a home where books were readily available and reading was encouraged.
Yet when Alexa was 10 years old, her life changed forever when she learned of “summer slide” — the tendency for young students, many of whom come from low-income families, to experience a slide in their reading skills during the time spent away from school during their summer break.
When Alexa discovered a large part of that slide stemmed from the simple fact that many young students from low-income backgrounds don’t have easy access to books when out of school, Alexa decided to make a difference.
That’s when Bags of Books was born.
Bags of Books is the book drive program Alexa started where, throughout the year, she fills her family’s garage with new and gently-used books ranging from pre-school to high school level.
Alexa, her family and volunteers then hold book distribution events in schools throughout the area with low-income students where students can fill bags with books to take home to keep their reading skills sharp until the next school year starts.
“Literacy is the key to their future, and I’ve learned from my research that literacy is a key to predicting in children how successful they’ll be when they grow up,” Alexa said.
Since she began her program, Alexa said she’s collected about 80,000 books, with average events offering anywhere from 2,000 to 4,000 books to kids in need.
Recently, Alexa’s efforts were even nationally recognized when she was selected as one of only 14 recipients of the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award.
For the past 10 years, the Helen Diller Family Foundation has supported the annual award, which is bestowed to Jewish teens across the nation who exemplify the tenets of the Jewish concept of “Tikkun Olam,” a Hebrew phrase that means “repair of the world.”
As a recipient of the reward, Alexa will receive $36,000 she can use to support her philanthropy or to further her education.
Alexa said she was grateful to the Helen Diller Family Foundation for honoring her and her work, and she noted her Jewish faith has translated into the work she does.
“Faith is definitely a big part of my life … my Jewish values have instilled in me the importance of helping others and giving back to my community,” Alexa said.
In turn, Alexa said the communities she’s given back to have made her feel amazing through countless thank you notes and personal stories from students affected by her work.
“It shows that the impact of my work goes so much father than I really thought it would, and it’s incredible to see how much of a difference my work is making in people’s lives,” Alexa said.
Overall, Alexa said she’s happy with the work she’s done so far, but there’s still more to do, so she’s asking the public to clean out their closets for a great cause.
Those looking to donate new or gently used books to her Bags of Books program or who might be interested in setting a collection drive at their school or business can contact Alexa at firstname.lastname@example.org
“Every book counts,” Alexa said.