Voorhees resident Jordan Grabelle was 10 when she founded Love Letters for Literacy in 2014. The nonprofit’s mission is to help younger kids learn to read by creating and distributing literacy packets for people in need.
Though Grabelle initially started by helping kids locally in the Camden County and Philadelphia areas, seven years later, Love Letters for Literacy has impacted 43,000 kids in all 50 states and 30 other countries.
The organization has worked with more than 20,000 volunteers to help make literacy packets for kids. Each packet includes three things: flashcards with the letters of the alphabet written on them; a “love letter” that encourages the recipient to play the games and become a reader; and game instructions, along with an explanation for the parents on what the packet is and how to use it. After the packets are made, they are donated to preschools, programs and communities that lack resources.
“The whole idea of the games is to get the children familiar with the letters and the sounds that they make because there’s a stat that in low income communities, the children will enter kindergarten only knowing one or two letters of the alphabet, compared with affluent peers that will know all 26,” Grabelle explained. “And it’s just a huge gap that continues to follow them throughout their early education. So it’s just important to try and close this gap before it leaves them behind in school.”
According to government statistics provided by The Literacy Project’s website, “50 percent of children from low income communities start first grade up to two years behind their peers. It is estimated that before ever entering kindergarten, cognitive scores for children of low income families are likely to average 60 percent lower than those in the highest socioeconomic groups (a pattern that remains true throughout high school).”
Kids from low income families or communities are at a disadvantage when it comes to literacy, and as they grow older, it makes a big difference. According to an article in Forbes, “literacy is correlated with several important outcomes, such as personal income, employment levels, health, and overall economic growth.” The article goes on to explain a study by the Department of Education that looks at how literacy levels are strongly related to income levels.
Grabelle, now 17 and a senior at Moorestown Friends High School, is still running the nonprofit and hopes to continue expanding it in the future. In addition to being a student, her job includes connecting Love Letters volunteers with nonprofits and schools serving families in need, responding to questions from volunteers and organizations, updating social media pages and creating packet-making events. She shared that oftentimes, volunteers continue to donate packets to specific local organizations or schools near them and form long-term relationships. While she is at school, her mom assists in helping respond to emails.
Over the past year, the organization has adapted to the pandemic. Love Letters for Literacy’s usual packet-making events became virtual, and they had more volunteers than ever before. In addition,Grabelle continued with her mission by working with nonprofits that continued to serve low income populations and other communities in need, like homeless shelters and an organization that provides resources to Native American reservations.
“I’ve definitely learned a lot about good communication and what that means, especially as someone who is young and had to learn to email and talk sometimes to CEOs and with people who speak different languages and try to overcome that barrier,” Grabelle reflected. “The most important thing I’ve learned is to be flexible and to adapt. … Learning how to be flexible and adapt to change really helped us not to just continue, but we expanded like crazy during that time, and it’s all because we personally learned to adapt.”
In June, Grabelle received the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam award from the Diller Family Foundation, a prize that supports Jewish teen leadership. In the future, she hopes to attend college and possibly law school to pursue a career that will combine her interests in public policy, entrepreneurship and law, with the ultimate goal of multiplying her future impact in her community and beyond.
In the past, Grabelle has also been recognized as a Game Changer by KYW News radio in Philadelphia and an Everyday Young Hero by Youth Service America.
For more information about her organization, visit https://lovelettersliteracy.org.