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BelieveNBooks celebrates milestone of 100,000th book distributed

BelieveNBooks, a teen-led nonprofit based in Southwest Florida, is celebrating the distribution of its 100,000th book as the organization aims to put more reading materials into the hands of underprivileged children.

“I started BelieveNBooks as an eighth-grader, and it’s incredible knowing that we have collected and distributed 100,000 books in just three years,” said Founder Natasha Agarwal, now a 17-year-old junior at Canterbury School in Fort Myers. “This is only the beginning. We are looking to build momentum by adding more corporate sponsors and community partners, and hopefully expand into other regions of Florida and beyond.”

BelieveNBooks provides children from birth through high school with books and reading materials to expand their horizons while enhancing their understanding of the world. The nonprofit supports schools, community groups and civic organizations that host book drives, and also secures monetary donations from individuals and businesses to purchase new books. BelieveNBooks then distributes age-appropriate books to children through dozens of community partners, including Guadalupe Center, Fun Time Early Childhood Academy, Golisano Children’s Hospital, Early Learning Coalition of Southwest Florida, Shelter for Abused Women & Children and other organizations.

The 100,000th book was distributed March 11 at Grace Place for Children & Families in Naples, where Zyanya Barranco was handed a hard-bound copy of Rachel Renée Russell’s “Dork Diaries: Tales from a Not-So-Fabulous Life” in front of a 3D book backdrop surrounded by a colorful balloon arch.

“I’m kind of surprised and kind of shocked,” 9-year-old Zyanya said after being handed the 100,000th book.

All students at the 100,000th book celebration were allowed to choose three age-appropriate books with the help of staff before learning of another surprise – a Kona Ice truck was parked outside and ready to provide sweet treats on a warm, sunny day.

Agarwal founded BelieveNBooks during the pandemic, a period when many children switched to remote learning, further exposing a resource gap that makes it difficult for underprivileged children to excel academically.

“Having a home library is crucial to a child’s success in reading and in school, and we find many of the families that come to Grace Place do not have books in the home,” said Diane Pontin, chief learning officer at Grace Place. “It’s really a great gift to be able to help families building their home learning environment and their home libraries, so partnering with BelieveNBooks has been a real benefit to our programs, our students and our families.”

Agarwal hopes to continue the momentum for BelieveNBooks as the organization pursues additional milestones.

“I like seeing all of the kids getting books and being able to help them pick out the books,” Agarwal said. “It reminds me why I started the organization in the first place. I owe all of it to the community partners, book drive organizers and volunteers. They really helped this vision come to life.”

BelieveNBooks can help coordinate book drives for schools, churches, scouting groups, neighborhood associations, sports teams and civic groups. It also is seeking additional corporate sponsors to help fund book purchases. Visit BelieveNBooks.org for information about community partnerships and corporate sponsorships.

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