The Reading Connection, a nonprofit organization with a mission to promote reading among children living in shelters, recently received a generous donation of children’s books from a 17-year-old high-school student. Alexander MacKay of McLean, a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School, recently donated over 500 children’s books to the organization as a part of his Eagle Scout project, a collection of books for the homeless.
“We are a small, local, nonprofit organization,” said Sarah Koch, the executive director of The Reading Connection, “and we rely on random acts of kindness.” According to her, MacKay’s book drive is an example of how people in the community can help the organization. The Reading Connection provides around 17,000 children’s books annually to families who need such books in the Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C., metro area. The books are usually collected through parent workshops and book drives, such as the one that MacKay did.
MACKAY SAID that Eagle Scout projects are usually building projects, such as constructing and placing a bench in the park, to provide a community service, but he wanted to do something different. “I thought that this was the best way to help the people who need help the most.”
MacKay decided on a book drive because he believed that he could help the underprivileged the most by providing them with a way to educate themselves. His book drive collected over 3,000 books, donating them to the American Association of University Women and the Reading Connection. The project was conducted by placing bags in neighborhoods, with a flier explaining what the bags were for. When MacKay, with the help of his fellow Scouts, returned to pick up the bags, he noticed the large response he received from the people of the community. “The most satisfying part of the project,” said MacKay, “was seeing how much response there was.” Besides receiving books from the members of the community who contributed to the drive, MacKay also asked some people in person if they could help out, who in turn asked others, until there were over 3,000 books. It took about three months for the project to be done, from the time MacKay started contacting people until it was over. The actual book collection took two to three weekends of work.
“He worked hard for it, and we are very proud of him,” said Judy MacKay, Alexander’s mother. She explained that he started formulating ideas for his Eagle Scout project shortly after the tragic events of Sept. 11. “His first idea,” she said, “was to sell American flags and raise money for the victims.” However, his adult adviser at the time instructed him to change his plans, because Eagle Scout projects are not about raising money, they are about providing a service to the community.
THE EXPERIENCE TAUGHT MacKay the value of leadership. According to him, organizing a lot of people to help him with the project was the most challenging aspect of it. For his accomplishments, MacKay was honored at a special Court of Honor ceremony at St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church in McLean. He also received letters of commendation from Gov. Mark Warner, Rep. Frank Wolf, and Del. James Scott.
Koch added that The Reading Connection was very grateful for MacKay’s contribution to the organization. “A child can’t learn to read without a book, just like a child can’t learn to play the piano without a piano,” said Koch. MacKay said that he always enjoyed reading and that he wanted to share his love for reading with those who are underprivileged.