Hugh started a service project in 2004 to help ease the transition of ESL students into high school life by collecting dictionaries and books and giving them to ESL students. He organized an English dictionary, English/Foreign language dictionary, and middle reader book drive.
He contacted several local churches to put announcements in their bulletins and recruited friends to help email the announcement to the churches, solicit donations of boxes from a moving store, make posters for the book deposit boxes and place the boxes in all the church lobbies. Once a week one of Hugh or his friends checked the boxes, and the donated books/dictionaries were brought to the ESL room. After several weeks it became clear that he wasn’t going to get enough dictionaries through donations alone. However, there were plenty of middle readers being donated. This was the most difficult step of the project because he needed to rethink how to get the amount of needed dictionaries.
After a family brainstorm, he came up with the idea to “Sponsor a Dictionary.” Hugh contacted a local office supply store that graciously gave him a discounted price to purchase dictionaries. He also contacted a book wholesaler who found the English/Spanish and English/Urdu dictionaries and offered to sell them for $1 each. He then sent out “Sponsor a Dictionary” letters to friends and family asking them to donate cash for as many dictionaries as they could sponsor.
The response was overwhelming, and Hugh was able to purchase over 170 dictionaries. With over 700 middle readers donated and nowhere to store them he constructed bookshelves and set up the middle reader library in the ESL classroom. Now the students were able to borrow the books that they wanted to read without the inconvenience of having to wade through boxes of books.
Hugh’s project accomplished more than just collecting dictionaries and books. He realized that he accomplished was a change in himself. Apparently, he thought he would be the “knight in shining armor” riding in with reinforcements just before the castle fell to the bad guys. But through this book drive, he began to understand just a fraction of the difficulties that these ESL students endure. However, they don’t think that they are doing anything great by learning a new language, customs, and life. While working on this project, Hugh was continually reminded he takes many things for granted. Even something as simple as a dictionary, he expected his parents to get without even considering the cost.
Thinking about these kids in my school, many of whom came to the United States without any material goods and no command of the language, helped him realize how good he had it and to use that “good” to help others.