Literacy Initiative

Our goal is for students to build a healthy spirit, mind and body through programs that mentor, engage in sports and support reading.

Photo of Agha Haider
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Additional categories (optional)

  • Environment

Are you employed by T-Mobile or related to an employee of T-Mobile?

  • No

Eligibility: Date of Birth

September 4th, 2003

Help us stay in touch!

(636) 891-4531 778 Strafford Ridge Drive Ballwin, MO 63021

Website or social media url(s) (optional): Instagram: @theliteracyinitiative Twitter: @theliteracyinit

Date You Started Your Project Started

January, 1st 2017

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?

Poverty and the lack of educational funding are prominent problems throughout the St. Louis area. In 2012, there was a poverty rate of 12.1% in the St. Louis county area and 29.3% in the St. Louis city area. This amounts to about 211,847 people that live in poverty in St. Louis alone. Illiteracy is a large issue for people that live in poverty because they don’t necessarily have all the resources or tools to be successful in school.

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

The Literacy Initiative has two main programs, Books & Cookies, and Books & Basketball. We decided to call it Books & Cookies because students in the program receive a free book and cookies during each meeting! During meetings, economically disadvantaged students in grades 3-5 work with our high school volunteers on various icebreaker and reading activities. Our goal for these programs is to create a fun and safe after-school club for students. Another one of our goals is for students to build a relationship with our volunteers. Since our volunteers are high school students, the kids we support feel as though the volunteers are their "big brother or big sister." Students work closely with a volunteer who helps them with reading and environmental activities in the program. Not only do we focus on building a strong mentor to mentee relationship, but we also provide culturally-appropriate books to the students we support. Many of the teachers and librarians I talked with said that they wanted books where minorities such as African Americans were present in the book.

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

One of the most eye-opening moments I've experienced was during one of our Books and Cookies meetings at Airport Elementary. I was sitting at a table with another volunteer and we were all drawing landscapes when one of the student's comments took me by surprise. He asked where we lived and once we responded, he said "Good. You never want to move to Berkeley. Nobody ever moves here by choice, everybody always tries to leave. Each night we hear gunshots and on New Year's day they aim for the head." I'll be completely honest. I have no idea what happened or what I said after that, but those few sentences still resonate in my head. Even though I knew there were poverty and violence in the area, it's a completely different experience when it's said to your face. I knew that I was making a difference in this child's life by serving as a role model for him and that I needed to take action.

4. Selfie Elevator Pitch: Include 1-minute video that answers the following “I am stepping up to make change because...”

5. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of what happens when a person or group gets involved with your project.

When a high school volunteer reaches out about being a mentor at one of our program locations, we ask them for their schedule as well as specific interests they may have. They are then placed at a location and volunteer for a 9-week session. Volunteers are typically paired up with around 2-4 students and serve as a mentor through the duration of the program. When a student gets involved in the program, they are paired up with a volunteer based off of shared interests. During the first meeting, volunteers introduce the program and play various icebreaker activities with the kids that encourage student-to-volunteer bonding. During the second meeting, students begin reading their first book with a volunteer. During the third meeting, students complete a short reading check. Afterward, students learn and work on an environmental activity based on the theme for the week.

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

The Literacy Initiative is unique in the sense that the organization and all our programs are solely run by high school students. Volunteers plan activities and coordinate snacks and books for each meeting. High school students are paired up with anywhere between 3-5 students in our Books & Cookies or Books & Basketball programs and work closely with each student. Many organizations give out books to kids through book giveaway events, however, what makes us different is that we work with the kids through our after-school program to make sure that students read and enjoy the book.

7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

Since 2017, we’ve provided over 9,000 books and $3,000 worth of school supplies to economically disadvantaged students. However, the number of books we have donated is not our main priority. Instead, our main priority is to make sure that volunteers are establishing meaningful relationships with the students we support. We have impacted over 1,250 students and over 200 volunteers. Turon Johnson is a student in our program that won the winter writing contest last year. He currently attends Mason Clark Middle in East St. Louis, IL. His teacher said the following, "I can't begin to tell you how much his accomplishment has inspired the other students in our class to work harder to increase their own writing skills. Thank you so very much for inspiring my students to become better writers and showing them that academic achievement is just as important, if not more than athletic achievement."

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

In October, we are hosting an Environmental Innovation Challenge where students will get the opportunity to research and develop a proposal for an ongoing environmental issue in the St. Louis community. One winner will have their idea implemented in their community. The purpose of this challenge is to share environmental awareness to younger kids in hopes that they can incorporate good habits into their everyday lives. Throughout the next couple of months, we will be establishing around 10-15 new after-school programs in St. Louis, Missouri and 3-4 new after-school programs in Memphis, Tenessee. We also received funding to develop a new program called Coding & Cookies that teaches the basics of coding to young students.

9. Which of the following types of expertise would be most useful for you?

  • Monitoring Impact

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

  • Friend support
  • Family support
  • Donations less than $100
  • Donations between $100-$1k
  • Donations between $1k-$5k

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 1 [optional] Which of the following categories do you identify with?

  • Asian (for example: Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Pakistani) (9)

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 2 [optional] Do you identify as part of any of the following underrepresented communities?

  • Communities of color
  • Religious minority (non-Christian)

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Social media
  • Search engine

Evaluation results

25 evaluations so far

1. Overall evaluation

5 - This idea rocked my world. It’s awesome! - 96%

4 - This idea seems really exciting. With a little more polishing, it’d be among my favorites. - 4%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 0%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - It didn’t make my heart beat faster. - 0%

2. Changemaker Quality

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 96%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 4%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 0%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

3. Creativity

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 84%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 16%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 0%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer - 0%

4. Commitment

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 100%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 4.2%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 0%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer - 0%

5. Connection

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 100%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 0%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 0%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer or No Connection - 0%


Join the conversation:

Photo of Vishwasri

It’s amazing how one step can lead to such a great program! It’s truly only one person that needs to step up. This program sets a standard that if change needs to happen, it will! We just need the right mindset and group of people. Literacy Initiative is an amazing program!

Photo of Agha Haider

Thank you so much! Your support is appreciated! Vishwasri 

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