Student Standouts: 7.10.19
agha haider » whitfield school
Not many 15-year-olds have a professional resume, let alone one with the title ‘executive director.’ But Whitfield junior Agha Haider is pretty good at stepping outside the norm. After giving a talk about student literacy for an eighth-grade English project, he wanted to become part of the solution, so he organized a book drive that brought in 2,000 titles for kids from disadvantaged neighborhoods. He then developed Literacy Initiative, a nonprofit that earned 501(c)(3) status this year and continues to grow. The organization relies on dedicated volunteers and local support to make sure donated books and school supplies get into the hands of kids who need them in St. Louis and other cities.
What programs does Literacy Initiative offer?
Books & Cookies has three annual sessions run by high school students. Volunteers work with kids on reading and leadership activities, and the students get a free book and snacks at each meeting. And our new Books & Basketball program helps kids get involved in sports. They spend half of each session on reading activities and the other half playing basketball.
How much has been donated?
Since 2017, we have given out 8,000 books and $3,000 worth of school supplies. By the end of this year, we probably will reach a total of 10,000 books and $5,000 in supplies.
How has the organization grown?
I started off working on it by myself from home, but this year, we expect to have a total of 150 volunteers. They help with fundraising and work at different events. So far, we have partnered with 15 schools, libraries and recreation centers in St. Louis and several in Memphis. We also are developing a program in Chicago.
Is it tough to balance the nonprofit with school and home life?
It’s a challenge. I’m pretty busy, and there definitely are times when it gets stressful. But it’s always worth it, especially when I see how interested the kids are in reading and how excited volunteers are to come back each year. This summer, I’m attending some conferences and camps—it’s a good opportunity to take time for myself.
How does helping other students make you feel?
The best part is when we bring books into schools, and students clearly appreciate all of the hard work we are doing. We include culturally appropriate titles so everyone feels represented. I love seeing the kids’ faces when they get their books and supplies! It’s one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. I’m not sure yet what I want to do as a career, but it definitely will involve helping others.
What has been your favorite memory so far?
There is a boy, now in sixth grade, who I met at one of the schools. We provided hundreds of books there, and he and I got to know each other over a couple of years. One day, he asked if he could be my best friend. I’ll never forget that.
As part of its sponsorship, Sport Court has made a donation to Literacy Initiative on behalf of Agha.