Ashley Peterson, a 17-year-old high school student enrolled in Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles, has identified a need in the community, conceived and initiated a program, engaged volunteers, and is now providing an invaluable service to the homeless in California and nationwide. The old truism that a society can ultimately be judged by the way it treats those at the bottom is most applicable to Ashley Peterson and the program she founded in early 1999 – ReREAD.
ReREAD is a nonprofit organization that distributes more than 10,000 current magazines each month to more than 1,000 homeless shelters and similar agencies throughout the country. Through ReREAD, Ashley’s foremost objective is to not only provide edification and reconnection with mainstream society, but to instill dignity and respect in the thousands of souls living on the street and sleeping in protective shelters.
Ashley became fascinated and troubled by the growing problem of visible and invisible homelessness, especially the ever-increasing numbers of homeless families and children. She took the tension and discomfort that permeates society regarding issues of the homeless and transformed it into doing something positive, uniting not only the homeless, but also scores of teenage volunteers, businesses and publishers.
Presently, several high schools are involved in the collection and distribution of the periodicals on a monthly basis. To aid the effort, Ashley has raised close to $30,000 in private donations to cover the cost of collection bins and postage. Her relentless and most admirable alacrity and persistence with publishing companies has resulted in substantial donations of magazines, including Time, Girl, Parents, Women’s Day, Nickelodeon, and many others.
The impact that ReREAD has had on the lives of the homeless and the less fortunate is outstanding and heartwarming. Numerous letters have been received from shelters and individual clients praising the program. Homeless teens and battered women are most appreciative, commenting that the periodicals not only provide interesting articles and are used for school projects, but also are a welcome respite from a morose life.
ReREAD is also expanding nationally, and has commenced distribution of periodicals to homeless shelters in New York, Boston, Chicago, and other cities. Further, Ashley has successfully solicited financial donations to support ReREAD’s activities. The program is having a positive impact on the unmet needs of the homeless, abused women and children, and other disadvantaged individuals.