College of Education > News and Publications > News: Oct. - Dec. 2010 > Student Helped Raise 21,000 Books for Children in Africa

Student Helped Raise 21,000 Books for Children in Africa

Michael Gottfried, a Penn State sophomore majoring in earth and space science education, reflects on his experiences volunteering for the African Library project, among other organizations, for his home and college communities.

by Marilyn Perez (November 2010)

Being recognized as a college student for helping to raise books for students in Africa isn’t an average accomplishment—but neither is helping to raise 21,000 books.

This past September, Penn State sophomore Michael Gottfried and his mother flew to the African Library Project (ALP) headquarters in San Francisco, Calif., for a fundraising event titled “Harambee!” to accept an award for his efforts toward the cause.Harambee.jpg

“It was nerve-wracking,” Gottfried said, adding that he had no prior public-speaking experience. “Everyone was very open and interested, and they were very excited to hear my story.”

The ALP organizes book drives in the United States and partners with schools in African countries to develop small libraries. Gottfried learned about the African Library project from his freshman seminar professor last fall, James “Jim” Nolan.

Nolan introduced the opportunity to be involved with the ALP after being informed about it by a Penn State College of Education 2008 alumnus, Michael Dissen. Dissen served as a Peace Corps member in the Kingdom of Lesotho in Africa from November 2008 to October 2010. (See related article.)

“It sounded like a great opportunity to make a difference,” Gottfried said.

At first, Gottfried said, most of the class seemed interested. He and a few other classmates took charge, collected information, and presented it to the class. After that, they were only left with about five dedicated Penn State students ready to work for the cause—inluding himself, Carly Williams, Ross Nycum, Kelsi Chuprinski, and Kelsey Suloman.

“I started out with a goal of 1,000 books, which makes one library,” Gottfried said. “There was such an overwhelming response that when I hit 1,000, I thought 2,000 was doable. And, then I thought 3,000 was possible.”

In order to raise more awareness, he created a Facebook group and invited all of his friends. Later, he and the other students involved were featured in both the Centre Daily Times and the Daily Collegian, and on the College of Education Web site. Furthermore, the Professional Development School, a yearlong teacher education program between the College of Education and State College Area School District, had students contribute books and brainstorm fundraising ideas.

Gottfried sorts booksIn the blink of an eye, students had collected 11,000 books in the Penn State area. Occasionally, Gottfried would visit his hometown of Roxbury, N.J. There, he asked some elementary schools and high school clubs to help out.

“The turn-out was so great that I ended up just starting a drive in New Jersey as well,” Gottfried said. “In the end, I collected 10,000 books in New Jersey in two or three months’ time.”

According to the ALP’s Web site, about $500 in donations are needed per 1,000 books in order to ship the books to Africa. Gottfried helped coordinate fundraising events to ensure that the books would get to Africa.

“By collecting these books and sending them over, we’re giving these children futures,” he said.

Last year, Gottfried contributed 200 hours of volunteer work toward the ALP, including everything from sorting and boxing the books, sending out e-mails, and fundraising.

Since high school, however, Gottfried has volunteered roughly 1,500 hours. While in high school, he participated in a book club for adults with disabilities where they would meet every Monday at a local Panera Bread to read books and socialize. This club was a branch off of another group he was involved with, called the TGIF teen group, which was geared towards adolescents with disabilities.

“It’s a chance for them to get out, make friends, learn to socialize, and develop key life skills,” he said, adding that the group meets on Friday nights at a local recreational center in Roxbury. “We worked on things such as counting money, teamwork, and responsibilities.”

These experiences have helped Gottfried discover his true passion. He learned that working with people is what he truly enjoys. He is currently majoring in earth and space science education, and he plans to teach school in New Jersey after graduating from Penn State.

“I’ve always wanted to be a teacher,” Gottfried said. “I’m not sure what teaching is going to be like, just because I’ve never had the opportunity. All these different experiences impacting people; I believe this is the right thing for me.”