New York Book Lover Drives Literacy in the Bronx

Daily Point of Light # 7754 Feb 23, 2024

Meet Daily Point of Light Award honoree Kelly Bouchard. Read her story, and nominate an outstanding volunteer or family as a Daily Point of Light.

Kelly Bouchard, 29, moved to New York City from upstate after getting her degree in engineering and now works in business development. Despite living in the city, Kelly considers herself outdoorsy and has recruited her friends to work towards hiking all of the 46 Adirondack High Peaks—ranging from 3,800 to 5,300ft in elevation—summiting eight in just this past year. Her friendly demeanor and positive energy are undoubtedly motivating factors.

Kelly also loves to read. In fact, she and her friends host a book club that she looks forward to each month and comes away from with the satisfaction of learning something new. It’s this second hobby that led Kelly to Start Lighthouse where she inspires kids to fall in love with books.

Start Lighthouse, an organization that addresses literacy through the lens of social justice, was founded in 2020 when the pandemic left many families in quarantine without resources they might otherwise have accessed at school. Today, it offers immersive literary experiences at local schools led by BIPOC authors and illustrators and gives away books that reflect the diversity of the people and experiences within the community they support. Kelly is on the Young Professionals Council. She connects with potential partners, works towards fundraising goals and volunteers at the group’s literacy hubs for elementary school children. Her dedication sparks the same lifelong passion for reading in kids and sets them up for future success.

What inspires you to volunteer with this initiative?

My parents instilled the importance of giving back in me and my siblings from a young age, which encouraged me to go out and find an opportunity to volunteer. Start Lighthouse linked my passion for reading and hit the nail on the head for me. I love New York City, and getting to do something I’m passionate about in the community really lit me up.

Tell us about your volunteer role with Start Lighthouse.

I serve on Start Lighthouse’s Young Professional Council. Specifically, I’m on the fundraising team, so I help advance fundraising goals and plan events. I also love volunteering at our literacy hubs, located in two schools in the Bronx where amazing teams put together engaging lessons for students. Helping out with the lessons is a fun way to get into a classroom setting, help students and hopefully inspire them to love reading.

What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?

It’s been amazing to go in and see the appreciation that the students have for this space that Rina, our founder, and Start Lighthouse have created. It has become important within the community it serves. Students come into the literacy hub for their lessons, and it’s just smiles, ear to ear. They’re always engaged. Lessons are tailored to each age group. You can see the excitement in the room.

They also have book fairs where the kids can take home free, brand-new books for their own library. Being a part of that process and getting to help kids pick out books is great. It’s fun to recommend books I loved as a kid. Building these home libraries breaks down a huge barrier to literacy – access to books. And providing options in which students see themselves represented is an important part of our mission.

What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?

I can’t overemphasize the importance being present and engaged. The kids always appreciate the little things that adults take for granted. I’ve found that helping them pronounce a word they don’t know or explaining the meaning of a new one goes a long way.

I’ve also gotten to experience firsthand how strong leadership creates more impact. It’s remarkable how Rina has grown Start Lighthouse, and none of that would be possible without a clear vision and mission. And, of course, I have to mention the incredible extended team that supports it.

Tell us about future partnerships, programs or events that you are excited about.

We’re having our annual event honoring the organization’s growth and all the folks that have been a part of that later this fall. I helped with planning last year. It was such a success and a really nice way to honor everything the organization has done for the community and everyone who has been a part of the story.

Why is it important for others to get involved with causes they care about?

It’s important to understand what’s going on in your community and the challenges that arise, like literacy in the Bronx. It’s a great way to be informed and to give back.

What can people do to encourage literacy?

Read out loud to kids. Share your passion for reading and show them the value in it. Show them that it’s fun. That fosters a love for reading. Additionally, it’s important to volunteer or donate to organizations like Start Lighthouse which has provided over 20,000 books to children and created spaces to support literacy development.

Any advice for people who want to start volunteering?

Try out a few different volunteer opportunities–I did–to home in on what feels right. The more passionate you are about something, the more you’re going to show up for it. You’ll naturally bring energy to the cause. I found Start Lighthouse through New York Cares and then reached out and eventually found the Young Professionals Council. I’ve met other incredible volunteers who are also driven to further the organization’s mission and amplify the work that has been so impactful on the community.

What do you want people to learn from your story?

Find something that aligns with your values and find ways to get involved, even if they seem small at first. Then, be present. Speaking from experience, kids notice.

Do you want to make a difference in your community like Kelly? Find local volunteer opportunities.

Kristin Park