Q&A with GlobeChanger Maria Keller
August 3, 2016 by mitchellcohen
Maria Keller founded Read Indeed when she was 8 years old with a big goal in mind. Wanting to promote literacy by collecting and gifting books to at-risk children, she set out to collect and distribute 1 million books by the time she turned 18.
She succeeded five years ahead of schedule and decided to dream even bigger. Her new goal was to donate 2 million books while distributing them to all 50 states in the U.S. and every country in the world.
Now at 16, she’s donated 1.9 million books and has reached children in every state in America. In 2014 she won a Jefferson Award for Outstanding Service by A Young American 25 Or Under. She’s also a member of JAF’s GlobeChangers program, an incubator for young social entrepreneurs.
In September she’s hosting a golf tournament to raise $25,000 with the goal of ‘adopting’ 4 underperforming schools and donating 10 books to every student who attends them. We spoke with Maria about the golf tournament, her public service, and what drives her to give back.
Q: What drives you to promote literacy?
MK: Since founding Read Indeed more than 7 years ago, I have witnessed the power that books can have on children’s lives and the ability to do well in school. When provided to kids who have no books in their homes, the impact of owning their own books on their ability to read proficiently can be profound. Without being a solid reader by grade 3, many children struggle in a myriad of subjects as they progress through their school years. Books are such simple tools that all children need to have in their lives and in their homes.
Q: You achieved the goal of collecting 1 million books by the age of 18—when you were 13! What made you so successful?
MK: A lot of hard work and the tremendous support of my efforts by the community! We have received books from people near and far who have heard about about my mission. They are inspired by a young person “doing good’ and making an impact. I’ve received such amazing support, both in terms of new and used book donations as well as monetary donations to help offset the cost of running my nonprofit organization. I can’t do this without the concerted effort of many people.
Q: What did winning a Jefferson Award mean to you?
MK: If was truly life changing. It was so incredibly special to receive such a prestigious award… not because of the accolades I received, but because it helped put Read Indeed on the map. As a result of the Jefferson Award, Read Indeed has been in the spotlight and more and more books have been donated and more children’s lives have been touched.
Q: What have you learned through JAF’s GlobeChangers program?
MK: I’ve been so inspired by all of the youth in the program and what an impact we are all making on this world. It is refreshing to work together on initiatives to help the greater good. These are amazing people who will continue to touch the lives of so many, throughout their lives.
Q: You’re hosting a charity golf tournament this September. What do you hope to achieve?
MK: Yes, the golf tournament is a fundraiser to raise $25,000. I plan on using this money to ‘adopt’ 4 underperforming schools whereby the students who are reaching state standards for reading are 20 percent or below. That means only 1 in 5 children are able to read at their grade level. These are kids who simply aren’t making it in the school system because they don’t have the resources at home (among other things). I plan on purchasing 10 books for EVERY student in every school I adopt. I plan to adopt 4 schools but there are hundreds of schools who are ranked as underperforming throughout the country. I want to make an impact on these kids’ live by giving each of them 10 books to start their own home library, rather than 1 book that make not make an impact. I am asking people to donate just $10, which I can use to purchase 20 books! They can donate at https://www.razoo.com/us/story/Read-Indeed. Thus far I have raised more than $23,000 in sponsorship dollars from companies and individuals and the golf tournament hasn’t even happened yet. I’m hoping my request goes viral and thousands of people give just $10. Imagine the impact it could have!
Q: Any advice for young people who have a big idea to change lives?
MK: Just do it. No idea is too small, especially when you can touch the life of even one person. I have been blessed to have given 1.9 million books to over 900,000 kids throughout the world. These are staggering numbers, but I would have been thrilled to have just enticed 1 child to own books and become interested in reading. And never be afraid to ask for help. So many people are willing to help with special projects.