At the young age of 15, Charlotte Olson recently completed her fourth book drive for Reach Out and Read and to date has collected more than 10,000 new and gently used books. Thousands of children in Camden, New Jersey now have books in their homes because of Charlotte, proving that, with effort and compassion, one person can make a difference in the lives of others.
Charlotte’s commitment to helping others took root a few years ago when she and her family visited Haiti. Experiencing poverty and global inequality affected Charlotte greatly and she soon realized there were many children in the United States – not far from where she lived in New Jersey – who were growing up in low-income homes, and she wanted to help. She learned that many of these children had few or no books of their own. Because books had always been such an important part of her own childhood, this motivated Charlotte to organize her first book drive. She quickly learned that the book drive could have a positive impact on many children, and in 2017 she collected her first 1,000 books for Reach Out and Read.
“The first book drive I did, there was a little girl who had never had a book before, and I got to give her a book and I actually read it to her too,” Charlotte said.
As Charlotte learned, children from low-income homes often grow up with fewer than 25 books, and many with no books at all. By partnering with Reach Out and Read, Charlotte is providing books to children and families living in low-income communities whose pediatricians are part of the vast Reach Out and Read network. The books are distributed at the health clinics throughout Camden where thousands of children get their regular checkups. In Camden, 37% of the population lives below the federal poverty level. In 2019, only 40% of third-graders in Camden scored proficient in English Language Arts, and only 25% of African American and Latino third graders were proficient. Research shows that having books in the home and reading aloud in those critical early years can make a tremendous difference.
Children’s Regional Hospital at Cooper is one of seven sites in the Camden area that has a Reach Out and Read program and has benefitted from Charlotte’s book drives. They are incredibly grateful for the books Charlotte has collected.
“The more than 1,000 books that you donated is a big deal,” said Dr. Mohammed J. Hussain, a pediatrician at Children’s Regional Hospital at Cooper and the Co-Medical Director of Reach Out and Read New Jersey, who presented Charlotte with a plaque.
“I appreciate how it’s going to help all my patients, here in Voorhees, in Camden, Burlington, Washington Township. We’re going to spread these books all over,” said Dr. Mohammed J. Hussain.
In addition to her community activism as a Reach Out and Read champion, Charlotte also participates in the National American Miss New Jersey pageants and is currently Miss Next Level Junior Teen 2019. Reach Out and Read is grateful for Charlotte’s passion for getting books into the hands of children who truly need them.
Thank you, Charlotte, for demonstrating that all it takes is one person who wants to make a difference!