One in four children in America grow up without learning how to read, and students who don’t read proficiently by the 3rd grade are four times more likely to drop out of school. 14-year-old Chase Hartman says that in his Tampa, Florida community, it is not uncommon to come across students who don’t read at age level, an issue the rising high school freshman decided to try to solve.
Discovering that some children in his community didn’t own books and at the same time, people and businesses dispose of a huge number of new and used books every day, Chase launched read.repeat. in 2016 along with a fellow student. Getting new and gently used books into the hands of those in need, Chase has distributed over 120,000 books thus far at schools, hospitals and libraries across all 50 states, supporting literacy and helping to improve the future for thousands of impoverished children.
What inspires you to volunteer?
I love volunteering because I get a lot of enjoyment out of being able to help anyone in need. Yes, there is a lot of hard work, but you know in the end, you’re helping people and you’re doing good work.
Describe your role with read.repeat.
As co-founder of read.repeat., I manage our book drives and book drops, sort books and contact organizations to confirm our donated book distributions. We also raise money to support literacy locally.
You started volunteering as a child. Why did you decide to help other children through service?
In 2016, we found a book company at my mom’s work complex willing to give away donated books. There were four giant bins of over 4,000 books they couldn’t sell. We took those books back to a storage unit, and we donated them to any place we could find. Our volunteerism grew from there.
Share one personal story with me from your volunteerism.
On our first book drive in Tampa where kids got to come and pick up books, we donated 1,400 books. One girl picked up her books, and then was interviewed by the local news. She told them, “I’m going to hold it, I’m going to love it, and I’m going to read it.” That was very impactful to us because she was one of the first kids we met through our volunteering, and she didn’t have many books at home, but we knew she was going to take our donated books and would read with her family at night and have fun with the books she read.
You also support diversity in literacy and dual-language resources. Explain.
35% of our county is Hispanic and 21% of the families in our county speak Spanish as their first language, so many kids enter school not knowing English. In addition, we realized a lot of the books we were giving out didn’t feature the demographics of the kids in the schools we visited. When we visited Cleveland Elementary School in Tampa, where 92% of the students are minorities, we donated $2,000 worth of new books with diversity to students along with used books. Kids need to see themselves in the books they read. In total, we’ve raised more than $7,000 for books with diversity and $25,000 for dual-language books.
Why do you think it’s important for others to give back?
There are a lot of other people that are less fortunate as compared to upper and middle class people, and those people need our support and help. Through volunteering, we help people with their reading and writing, which can improve graduation rates, and by extension, we’re helping them connect with their families. A lot of the kids say they’ll read books with their mom and dad at night.
What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?
Through volunteering and working hard, you can get many things done. Working many hard days in the Florida heat and hot sun, all of it has paid off because we are helping these kids get a better education.
In one word, what does volunteering mean to you?
Happiness. Volunteering brings happiness to others.
What’s your favorite book?
The Harry Potter series because I like magic and all the mysteries that happen through the series.
When you’re not in school or volunteering, what do you do for fun?
I’m very overscheduled with swimming and Boy Scouts. I don’t have a lot of time to read books but I love reading. We have kind of a big library in our house so I’ll try to pick one book a week and read.
How can readers help?
We haven’t had to pause our volunteer activities as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, but we’ve slowed a bit. We collected 1,000 books at a drive thru and drop off book drive in mid-May, and friends and families continue to drop books off at our front door. Please visit our GoFundMe page for our back to school drive, and our website for more information about how you can help.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Chase Hartman? Find local volunteer opportunities.