Every year around Christmas, Olivia Stinson's church in Charlotte, NC, hosts an Angel Tree with the names of kids with incarcerated parents. "The kids would come, get their gifts and leave," she says. But she wanted those kids to have more than just presents -- she wanted them to have relationships, so she created PEN (Peers Engaged and Networking) Pals Book Club & Support Group. The group consists of youth ages 12-19 from her church and the community, plus the children with parents in prison. "The concept of the book club is to meet once every month throughout the year so that when Christmastime arrives, we know each other." Her group is so inspiring that they just won a $10,000 Makers grant from Simple Skincare.
We love this idea! So we sat down with Olivia to learn more:
I Heart Daily: Why a book club? Olivia Stinson: In Charlotte and Mecklenburg county alone, there are over 5,600 children of incarcerated parents and it is estimated that over 70% of these youth will become incarcerated if someone does not step up to the plate. Because their school work often suffers and they sometimes isolate themselves, I felt it was important for the book club to promote literacy. Every other month we read a book that deals with teen issues and then we discuss the book.
IHD: Tell us about a great moment for PEN Pals. OS: We set up a library in a transitional house for women that had just recently been released from prison. At my high school, we held a talent show using books for admission that yielded over 800 books. We solicited additional books from my church and the Charlotte community. We totaled over 1,200 books to create a library in the house for those women.
IHD: What will PEN Pals do with the grant from Simple? OS: We'll support the families that we adopt at Christmas, whether it be with food, clothing, school supplies or toys. The grant will also go towards purchasing books for both PEN Pals and BE A Reader Book Clubs. We always serve meals at the meetings so we’ll use some of the money to help with purchasing food. We'll also put some money towards starting another chapter in the southern part Charlotte.
IHD: What advice would you give to a girl who wants to change the world? OS: Take whatever your passion is and use that; as a child I loved reading and now I have a book club that allows me to make a difference.