By Cherri Gregg

CAMDEN, N.J. (CBS) — Camden County seventh-grader Alexa Grabelle loves to read.

“Especially dystopian novels,” she says, estimating that she’s devoured hundreds of books in her 12 years.

But two years ago, Alexa learned that many children who do not have books at home experience what’s known as the “summer slide” — a loss in literacy skills caused by a lack of reading during the summer break.

“I couldn’t imagine my life without [reading],” she says, “so I wanted to be able to provide reading to others who can’t afford books.”

Alexa took action by starting a service project, dubbed “Bags of Books.”  Through the project, Alexa collects gently used books from local libraries, religious organizations, and schools during the year to distribute to kids in need.

She says her family is a huge help, with the Grabelles placing dozens of bins of books in their garage and sorting them in time to give them away to students during school breaks.

“We have a three-car garage and it’s entirely filled to its capacity with books,” says Alexa.  “When we want to sort them, we bring them into the house one bin at a time.   It takes many hours, many days to sort all the books.”

Alexa, who thinks her future may make her an entrepreneur or a hotelier, says she’s collected thousands of books, creating free “shopping” days at seven schools in Camden and in West Philadelphia that are largely populated by African-American children.   Students are provided bags and get to go through the bins, organized by grade level, to fill those bags with books that interest them.

With the help of sponsors like Old Navy, she has also helped distribute 1,000 bookbags.

But the effort taught Alexa a big lesson:

“I was surprised by the state of the schools and that the students didn’t have books at home like I did,” she says.  “And they were so grateful when they received the books — it made me feel like I was making a difference.”

Alexa has received lots of hugs, thank yous, and letters praising her effort.  She has also been named a “Young Hero” by the National Liberty Museum.

But this is just the beginning.  Alexa says she plans to keep it going.  The immediate goals are to build a web site, collect more books, give away more bags, gain more sponsorships, and help more schools.

“I want to continue to give back to my community whenever I can, however I can,” says Alexa.

And she’s not going to let being 12 years old stop her.

Hear the extended interview with Alexa Grabelle in this CBS Philly podcast (runs 15:09)…

Watch Alexa Grabelle on Talk Philly here…

For more community affairs stories about “gamechangers” in your neighborhood, follow KYW community affairs reporter Cherri Gregg on Twitter.  You can also “like” her on Facebook.


Follow Cherri Gregg on Twitter: @cherrigregg

Like her on Facebook:

2014 Gamechangers — Main Page

Watch & Listen LIVE