Original article posted in The Village Voice of Ottawa Hills - Waverly Hart
Ottawa Hills High School students Donavan Bridges and Jonathon Dolsey don’t even have their driver’s licenses yet, but they are already two exceptional ambassadors for Ottawa Hills.
The duo are ambassadors with the Books 4 Buddies program, a diverse group of 23 boys from a number of Toledo-area public and private high schools.
Books 4 Buddies is a non-profit organization, which promotes and encourages literacy in disadvantaged youth, especially boys, throughout Toledo. Ambassadors go to underprivileged areas and give books to 4- to 7-year-old boys who don’t have access to reading materials.
Bridges and Dolsey recently organized a book drive that collected more than 1,400 books from the Ottawa Hills Elementary, Junior High, and High Schools and other donors.
Books 4 Buddies (B4B) was founded in 2012, by Laneta Goings, when, after an interaction with her grandson, she realized many young boys struggled with reading comprehension.
“It all started on the premise of, when my grandson was in the third grade, his mom said, ‘Do your homework.’ And he said, ‘I can read the words, but I don’t understand what I’m reading,’” Goings said. His comment sparked the idea for B4B, and the initiative has evolved and grown ever since.
“I think the uniqueness of our program, although there are a lot of literacy programs, is the fact that we have these amazing young men. They go to public and private high schools, they have the book drives, they interact with kids, and I think the cool thing is that when we go to the under-served communities, we meet them where they live, and the boys lock eyes with them, and it’s like they speak their own language … as role models and mentors they’re just doing
some amazing things,” Goings said.
Not only is B4B helping to promote literacy in disadvantaged youth, but the ambassadors, who already have easy access to books, are expanding the scope of what they know, which gives them a greater appreciation of the things they have at home.
“Coming from Ottawa Hills, you kind of think it’s just your little bubble, but going out and helping people from inner-city Toledo is a really cool thing, because you’re getting to know other people from different situations,” Bridges says.
Christopher Smith, Lead Mentor of the B4B Ambassadors, believes that the program greatly benefits the young men who participate.
“We say ‘Once an ambassador, always an ambassador.’ We’re developing future community leaders … When we can get other people to care about something other than themselves, they care about their school, they care about their community, they care about the world,” Smith says.
Organizers hope to see B4B continue to expand. This past year, B4B had an ambassador from Ghana who was studying abroad at Scott High School. He is planning to bring a Books 4 Buddies program to Ghana when he returns.
Additionally, Bridges and Dolsey would like to see more participation from Ottawa Hills students. Both of them encourage Ottawa Hills boys to look into becoming an ambassador because they have resources and can reach more people than other young men.
The B4B program will continue to do book drives and provide reading materials to underprivileged youth throughout the Toledo area. For more information, visit: www.books4buddies.com.