Victoria students use 16th birthdays to donate books

Gabriella Canales By Gabriella Canales

Nov. 13, 2017 at 5:57 p.m.
Updated Nov. 14, 2017 at 6 a.m.

Karishma Parikh, 16, left, and Reagan Heard, 16, pose for a portrait with some of the books the girls donated to Hopkins Elementary for use in the school's reading program. "It was kind of exciting," Reagan said of donating the books. "We didn't think it would be as big of a deal."

Karishma Parikh, 16, left, and Reagan Heard, 16, pose for a portrait with some of the books the girls donated to Hopkins Elementary for use in the school's reading program. "It was kind of exciting," Reagan said of donating the books. "We didn't think it would be as big of a deal."   Nicolas Galindo for The Victoria Advocate

The one present Karishma Parikh wanted above all others on her 16th birthday, Jan. 21, was new or used books.

"I never wanted a big sweet 16 party," Karishma, 16, said. "Reading is really important to me, so books and kids just worked."

Karishma and her friend, Reagan Heard, 16, requested books instead of presents for their 16th birthday parties to donate to the Hopkins Mentor Connect program.

"We got a good amount of books, about 3 dozen," Karishma said.

The St. Joseph High School seniors have been friends since the age of 3, and their birthdays are a day apart.

Karishma also donated money and volunteered at the American Red Cross. She currently volunteers at The Riding Therapy Center, a program that helps people with disabilities, special needs or mental illnesses through teaching horsemanship skills.

Karishma and Reagan took the big box filled with books to the center in August. While at the school, Karishma said the teachers were excited about the donation.

Reading makes Karishma smile, a feeling she wanted to share with students by donating the books, she said.

"For me, it's something that brings entertainment, happiness, joy," she said. "Helping others and bringing a smile to them is the best gift."

The small gesture will make a big impact on the students who read the books, Reagan said.

"It made me feel happy the kids will appreciate them," she said. "Instead of sitting in our closets, they will be put to good use."

The books were labeled by reading level and put into the classroom's library, said Felicia Sledge, Hopkins Mentor Connect Coordinator.

"The students use them every day," Sledge said. "When a mentor donates a book, we write on the inside, 'donated by,' and the person's name so they know when they open the book it was donated."

The program currently has 88 mentors who serve 27 students, Sledge said.

"That sounds like a lot, but each child needs four mentors and people who can come Monday through Thursday," she said. "The more mentors we have, the more students we can serve."

A new mentor to the program is Karishma's mother, Namrita Parikh, who was inspired by her trip to the center and a friend who is also a mentor.

"I was definitely inspired when I went there," Parikh said. "It made me want to be a part of it."

Parikh said she teaches her family the importance of community and believes her daughter and her friend demonstrated that through their donation.

"The girls are role models to show the next generation," she said. "It's heartwarming."

People interested in becoming mentors usually sign up after they visit the program, Sledge said.

"Until they come to see, they are nervous," she said. "Once in here, they enjoy it."

Sledge said the program's goal is to help students grow their reading skills in the 30-minute sessions. Lesson plans that include literacy skills and vocabulary comprehension are created for the mentor as a learning path.

"We are very grateful for people in the community who see the need, and they do something about it," she said. "We can always use more."


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