Eco Brothers, Promoting Reading, Recycling, Diversity and STEM

I've distributed 120,000 books to thousands of kids across the nation, building an educational foundation and promoting reuse and recycling.

Photo of Chase Hartman
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Date You Started Your Project Started

July 24, 2016

Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Scaling (expanding impact to many new places or in many new ways)

1. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

Only 1 out of every 300 kids in struggling areas actually own their own books, and kids who own books do better in school, but 300 million books are thrown into landfills each year! The challenge is we need to get more books into the hands of kids and promote reuse! Studies show kids who are proficient in reading by 3rd grade have a higher graduation rate! Reading sets you up for success and sharing helps the planet!

2. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

Since starting “read.repeat." 3 years ago, I've volunteered more than 1000 hours, collected 120,000 books and distributed them to 200 locations in 50 states, and raised $58,000 to support literacy in the Tampa area. I teamed up with Hillsborough County Public Schools and delivered 70,000 books to 65 schools, helping 25,000 kids with the resources they need to build a strong educational foundation. After visiting many schools with a majority of minorities, I wrote a grant request and fundraised to purchase books-with-diversity and distributed thousands to Title 1 Schools so kids could relate to the books. I also realized kids need STEM content in fictional books. Studies show there's a link between literacy development and success in STEM. Although I primarily collect gently used books to promote a positive impact on the environment, I've written many grants and won awards to purchase new books. We need to supply schools with more pleasure-reading STEM books to introduce elementary kids to problem solving, comprehension and fun scientific content. Studies prove young children understand STEM content more readily if first presented in a story based, fictional book.

3. Using STEM as a force of good: Please specify how are you using STEM to solve for an environmental challenge you are passionate about.

Environmental education is key to reaching kids! I began this book collecting project because I'm passionate about the environment. I promote reuse and recycling when I visit the schools. I recently, registered a non profit, Eco Brothers, Inc. with my little brother so we could make a greater impact on the environment and it's people. During our book deliveries in local schools, we've given kids National Geographic Magazines and explained the importance of topics found inside like protecting our oceans, bees and wildlife. Of the 120,000 books I've distributed, approximately 90,000 are gently used. By promoting reuse we estimate we saved 3600 trees- that's a forest! During many books drives we are constantly talking about ways to save the planet. We explain sharing books helps forests because each year we kill 68 million trees for paper! By sharing we can cut this down. I've raised money to purchase new STEM fiction and biographies to teach kids at a young age how STEM can be fun and understandable. When not collecting books we are selling bracelets for our cause. We donated $1000 to Ocean Conservancy. We do regular beach clean ups to keep plastic out of the ocean.

4. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project?

I started volunteering in first grade as a Cub Scout and in National Elementary Honor Society. Although the projects were small, I realized kids can still make a difference. The one that had the most impact on me was a book drive NEHS ran for Metropolitan Ministries. I learned some kids in our county didn’t own books and I wanted to do more! I found a book company needing to give away thousands of used books or they would be destroyed. I started “read.repeat”, launched several book collections in my clubs, sports teams and martial arts studio. At first is was surprising how many books we were collecting and how quickly we outgrew the garage. Now, I’ve met thousands of kids who might not otherwise own books. They get so excited to sift through the piles and find the perfect one! Meeting the kids and helping them pick out books based on their interest is the best part of this job!

5. Video (Keep it simple, a video made on a hand-held phone is great): Please upload a 1-minute video to YouTube that answers the following “I am stepping up to be a Changemaker because...”

6. Please highlight the key activities you have carried out to bring your project to life.

My first book delivery, three years ago, was impactful. In 5th grade, I was hoping to help other elementary school kids. I met a girl who was so excited to get a book to own she held it close to her chest and said "I will love it, read it and keep it forever." Since that delivery I've donated to a school destroyed by a fire and one devastated by a flood. I won $25,000 for Dual Language books, many grants for books-with-diversity and I'm constantly fundraising to help kids in struggling areas.

7. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?

My project serves kids who are just building their foundation for learning. By supplying STEM books, I spark an interest in STEM topics, to kids at young age, making it easy to understand and allowing them to explore it from a fictional story-based standpoint. Studies show that kids in the 4th grade should be reading 50% informational STEM text and 50% literary text. Without access to fiction based books on STEM topics, kids won't develop the passion and understanding for STEM, as easily as kids with access to this content. We supply books like "Hidden Figures", "Yazmin," and "Mae Jemison."

8. Impact: In the last three months, please detail the impact your project has made?

In the past three months, I secured a grant through The Lightning Foundation (Hockey) for $25,000 which purchased Dual Language books for my public school system. 6 local schools received thousands of books for kids to take home and enjoy with their families. 21% of families in my county speak Spanish as a first language and many kids enter school without a knowledge of English. I wanted to make reading easier for them. The books were given out right before COVID-19. I got $250 from Hershey to purchase diversity-books to give to kids in struggling areas during our next book drop. I've collected thousands of used books through drives and partnerships. I, typically, would be giving them away at this time for summer reading packs. The schools are closed due to COVID-19, so I've been rerouting them to be given out during food distributions. I've also ran several litter cleanups.

9. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?

I registered a 501(c)3 called Eco Brothers, Inc. with my little brother so we could combine our efforts and work harder and smarter for the environment. We will continue to promote reuse by collecting gently used books, hoping friends in other states will join this cause to promote reuse and save the forests! We are also dedicated to finding more solutions to tackle the problem of mounting landfills. We will continue to speak to groups about recycling and upcycling. We also do monthly beach and park clean ups to keep plastic out of our ocean. We need to get a larger reach through social media and YouTube to promote this issue and solutions to our peers so everyone is educated and helping this cause.

10. Please share how you have influenced other young people to get involved in your project and/or care about environmental sustainability.

I speak to thousands of kids each year on the importance of reuse and recycling. One of the most impactful events we run is called "Boogie for Books" sponsored by NEHS in our former elementary school. Each year we show up to speak to a packed room of kids who donated books to come to a special dance. We talk about the importance of reuse, recycling, volunteering, and how our project grew from that first book collection we did when we were in NEHS. We inspire the kids to find a passion!

11. Please share ideas of how you can partner with other changemakers to make a difference?

Networking and partnerships have become so important to the growth of our project. The Lightning Hockey Team, Karma for Cara, Prudential, and Hershey have all financially supported and recognized this cause. We need additional partnerships and ideas to continue to expand our reach. This a great opportunity to connect with teens who have the same vision. When I participated in Prudential Spirit of Community I came home and connected with the other state reps who sent books and helped me grow.

12. How would you engage others who have never heard about your project to get their buy-in?

It's easy to clean off a book shelf! Sometimes change comes by taking small steps. We connect with dozens of people each month who want to donate books to us. We also get a lot of requests from Little Free Libraries across the nation who struggle to keep their libraries filled. We ship out as many books as we can. We promote this thru social media and deliver a Call-To-Action, asking people to donate their used to books to these little libraries in their communities. Sharing is simple!

13. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?

  • Friend support
  • Family support
  • Sales
  • Mentors/advisors
  • Donations less than $100
  • Donations between $100-$1k
  • Donations between $1k-$5k
  • Donations over $10k

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Participated in previous Ashoka challenges

Evaluation results

6 evaluations so far

1. Overall evaluation

Yes, absolutely! - 16.7%

Probably - 50%

Maybe - 16.7%

Probably not - 0%

No - 16.7%

2. CONNECTION to Environmental Sustainability

5 - Absolutely! It is totally clear that the solution is contributing directly to environmental sustainability and/or addressing climate change - 50%

4 — Yes, it establishes a connection to environment/ climate change but could be stronger - 16.7%

3 — Somewhat, the entry speaks to this environmental sustainability, but the direct impact is not well established - 16.7%

2 — Not really, the connection to environment/ climate is very weak - 0%

1 — No. The entry does not have a reference the solution’s impact on environment and/or climate change - 16.7%

No Answer or No Connection - 0%

3. Is this entry CREATIVE?

5 - Yes, absolutely! - 0%

4 - Yes, I think so - 50%

3 - Maybe - 33.3%

2 - Probably not. - 0%

1 - No - 16.7%

No Answer - 0%

4. Does this entry demonstrate a COMMITMENT to changemaking?

5 - Yes, absolutely! - 100%

4 - Yes, I think so - 33.3%

3 - Maybe - 33.3%

2 - Probably not - 0%

1 - No - 33.3%

No Answer - 0%

5. Does this entry value CHANGEMAKING through collaboration with other stakeholders in its approach?

5 - Yes, absolutely! - 33.3%

4 - Yes, I think so - 50%

3 - Maybe - 0%

2 - Probably not - 0%

1 - No - 16.7%

No Answer - 0%

6. Is this entry VIABLE financially and operationally?

5 -Yes, absolutely! - 50%

4- Yes, I think so - 0%

3- Maybe - 0%

2- Probably not - 0%

1- No - 50%

No Answer - 0%

7. FEEDBACK: What are the strengths of this project?

CONNECTION: You have a great understanding and personal connection to the problem - 100%

CREATIVITY: You have researched existing solutions, and have developed unique, thoughtful new solutions to aid environmental sustainability/combat climate change - 50%

COMMITMENT: You have a thoughtful plan for growing your business, and your founding team has a strong combination of leadership and knowledge-based skills - 100%

CHANGEMAKER QUALITY: You value thinking around how to activate other changemakers and empower them to care about your cause. You also have a clearly defined plan on how to collaborate across multiple stakeholders - 50%

IMPACT MEASUREMENT: You use specific numbers and evidence to describe what your project has achieved so far (or plan to achieve in the future) and you have a plan for measuring impact - 0%

VIABLITY: You have given a great deal of thought to not just the idea itself but how to make it work from a financial perspective in the present and future - 50%

Other option - 0%

8. FEEDBACK: What are some areas for improvement for this project?

CONNECTION: Why you care about the environment/ climate was unclear – It would be great to elaborate on what this solution means to you, personally and how it affects you and/or your community. - 100%

CREATIVITY: Be more specific in your description of the research you have done into the past solutions to this problem and focus on how your solution is unique and innovative - 100%

COMMITMENT: Your plan for growing the organization can benefit from more specifics. How can you round out the various skills of your current leadership team to make the project a long-term success? - 100%

CHANGEMAKER QUALITY: Try to provide more insights into how you are activating changemakers and empowering them to innovate through your product or programming. How will they care about environment/climate if they currently do not? Think about how to create value for all stakeholders, not just immediate beneficiaries - 100%

IMPACT MEASUREMENT: Provide specific instances of your social impact and how you plan to measure impact – it may be helpful to describe the beneficiaries, products and programming, and provide evidence of (or plan for) how to measure impact - 0%

VIABILITY: Make sure you have provided descriptive information about your financial sustainability plan. Where do the funds come from now and do you have a concrete plan for future sustainability? - 100%

Nothing – I thought everything was great! - 100%

Other option - 0%


Join the conversation:

Photo of Ellen Rombach

Impressive progress! It is inspiring to hear how your project has developed over the past few years. It would be great to learn how you are able to coordinate the book drives and distribution and how you get in touch with your different donation locations. Do you have a team that helps you? I appreciate your research on the benefits of literacy and reading. Keep it up!

Photo of Chase Hartman

Thanks Ellen! We get lots of requests and have developed a really good support team at our school office!

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