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Meet the Jewish Teen Who’s Actually Getting Kids to Read

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Problem: Education funding cuts too often leave schools without vital programs.

Solution: Rim High Literature Club

The Teen Who’s Making A Difference: Laurielle Schwab of Running Springs, CA

In 2014, Laurielle’s former elementary school lost the funds for its reading program. Laurielle was already in high school, but she was determined to give back to the community that nurtured her. She pulled together a group of friends and brainstormed how to bring reading resources back to the school system. And thus, Rim High Literature Club began.

RHLC pairs teenage volunteers with grade school children to work on reading comprehension, vocabulary, literary analysis, and poetry. Laurielle’s organization has already enriched more than 1,000 elementary school students and over 50 teen volunteers. Through fundraising and donations of 300 gently-used children’s books, RHLC is already branching out to reach more schools and different aged readers. This year, Laurielle received a Diller Teen Tikkun Olam award for her dedicated work.

As Laurielle says, “Healing begins with one, and in turn, affects many.”

Here are some more amazing things Laurielle told us:

What’s your happiest memory of growing up in Running Springs?
I loved looking at the stars. There was very little light pollution because the San Bernardino National Forest was my backyard, so the stars were insanely bright. My best friend, Juliet, and I decided to go stargazing one night but we didn’t realize how stupid cold it was outside. Bad idea. The snow had just melted so the field we were laying on was SOAKED. The ice water soaked through our socks, shoes, pants, shirts, jackets, scarves, and hats. At least when we got home we sat in front of a fire and made strawberry crepes!

Who is your favorite author?
Chris Cleave. I picked up his book “Little Bee” because the cover art was interesting and just got completely hooked on his writing style. He writes in a style that sounds more like spoken word poetry than just text on paper.

What’s your favorite book?
“Copy Me, Copycub.” My mom read this to me so much as a kid that she has it memorized. If I’m ever feeling stressed out or scared, I just remember how the little bear cub always looks at his mom for guidance.

What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned outside the classroom?
Boys are stupid and girls are evil. This was my step-dad’s mantra. It’s a very generalized statement, but whenever middle-school me was bummed I didn’t get asked to the Valentine’s Day Dance, it cheered me up. I found out the same phrase applies to college boys as well!

Who’s your greatest hero and why?
Grandpa Schwab. If a blind man can use power tools to help me build a catapult for an 8th grade project, then I have no excuses.

What were those first days of Rim High Literature Club like?
The initial day we decided to make a club was an explosion of ideas and passion. My two friends and I spent hours talking about how we wanted to make an impact in the lives of kids and show them how important reading is. The next few months we had meetings at lunch and convinced people to join a club that hadn’t been officially created yet. I sent tons of emails to teachers, the school board, and businesses just to tell them about the idea. We pitched our idea to the Mountain Sunrise Rotary Club and they have been supporting us since day one.

How do you recruit your volunteers?
The best way to get a bunch of high school teenagers out of bed at 6 a.m. is to promise them free breakfast. We would either bake 60 muffins the night before, or ask everyone to bring in food for a potluck. I loved that everyone who was a part of the club received zero compensation. They didn’t get paid to be there and they didn’t even get extra credit for English class. Everyone came because they got to see how they have the power to make a difference in the lives of children. The news about the club spread and everyone was bringing their friends and siblings and members from their sports teams and outside service clubs. It grew in the most organic way possible.

What was the most rewarding part of running RHLC?
Realizing I was involved with creation of a legacy. The first group of kids we worked with are now three years older. Next year they will be starting their freshman year in high school and will be able to join the same club that helped them when they were younger. I love that the club is driven by kids helping kids.

How is it running without you, now that you’re in college?
The new leadership board is doing an incredible job with club management and expansion. Emily Gregg, the current RHLC president, has been constantly giving me updates. She says, “This year, Lit Club developed a tutoring program at a local middle school where we mentor and provide enrichment activities to prepare students for higher education. In the spring, we read books and poetry in retirement homes and a local hospital to reach the elderly in the community.”

What’s next for RHLC?

The club wants to experiment with different ways to reach all ages of the community. I am also contacting volunteer and nonprofit organizations in Arizona to try and create more programs like RHLC out here in Phoenix.

How about you? After school, any plans?
Currently, I’m working with the non-profit organization “Speak Out for Arizona” and Littleton Elementary. I’m working on a series of three murals for the school and trying to plan community outreach days to involve the students with painting and campus beautification. In the summer of 2017, I plan on going to Israel on one of the Birthright trips.

Anything else you’d like to say about RHLC or your Diller Teen Tikkun Olam award?
THANK YOU SO MUCH TO THE HELEN DILLER TEEN TIKKUN OLAM ORGANIZATION!!!! The trip up to San Francisco was an enlightening weekend and because of it, I feel closer to Judaism.


This post is sponsored by the Helen Diller Family Foundation. To learn more about the foundation’s $36,000 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards, visit www.dillerteenawards.org.


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