Students’ fundraising campaign brings inclusive books to elementary school

Junior Althea Smith never saw her queer identity represented in books or on television growing up. But when her Nonprofit Fundraising Campaigns class started a fundraising campaign this semester, Smith, along with her classmates, had the opportunity to provide children with books inclusive of all identities.

Professor Cathryn Edelstein helped create and run the campaign, On The Same Page. On The Same Page gives newly purchased books to students at Conley Elementary School in Roslindale, Massachusetts. The campaign went live on April 2, Edelstein said.

Set up entirely through an Amazon wish list, the campaign allows outside supporters to purchase a range of children’s books that feature characters from diverse backgrounds for the school. Smith said supporters can buy the books through Amazon and their order gets mailed directly to Conley Elementary.

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The class reached their initial goal of 100 donated books in less than two weeks. They’ve already donated 148 books out of the 170 listed on the wish list.

“We have a lot of titles with main characters that are people of color because the Conley school is majority people of color,” Smith said. “There are books about kids with autism, kids who are differently abled, and kids who have different sexualities and gender identities.”

Smith said that by seeing relatable portrayals of themselves in media, children can gain more self-esteem and awareness.

“Not seeing my identity reflected around me, whether it would be in books or shows or movies, was really hard,” Smith said. “I think it’s really important to do that for kids.”

Junior Jonathan Sherfey, one of the students in the class, said it’s important for the students at Conley Elementary to see themselves represented in the media.

“Most children’s books are underrepresented in terms of diversity,” Sherfey said. “They don’t really represent the community of Roslindale. We wanted to give students something they can relate to when they’re reading.”

The class chose to donate to Conley Elementary when Edelstein reached out to former Emerson professor Neil Harris, who now teaches fifth-grade special education classes at the elementary school. Harris volunteered his school to be a part of Edelstein’s proposed campaign.

Edelstein said the class assists a nonprofit organization every semester, and it is the first time one of her class campaigns has lasted for the entire semester. She said students from past years typically organized a one-day event.

In previous years, the class helped other nonprofits, including Operation Lipstick, an organization dedicated to helping women wrongfully accused of firearm-related crimes. Last spring, her class worked with the Pawtucket Red Sox by hosting a game called “A Paw-fect Day for a Better Tomorrow,” benefiting the Tomorrow Fund Foundation for families of children with cancer, Edelstein said.

Smith said she hopes On The Same Page expands to other colleges.

“We wanted it to be something that other schools can take up,” Smith said. “So in class we’re making a plan about how to go about doing this, and then hopefully other schools can adopt this and do the same thing.”

The class also worked with the Introduction to Public Relations class, which helped promote the campaign with press advisories.

“I’ve had family members who have bought the books, and friends who have really loved the idea,” Smith said.

Edelstein said the class plans to visit the children at Conley Elementary and read the books to them on Thursday, April 25.

“We’ve got pictures from the school of the kids holding their new books,” Sherfey said. “I think it’s cool that instead of just raising money, it’s a tangible thing that we’re giving them.”

Edelstein said the campaign will continue through the summer, or until all 170 books are donated. She is confident that the remaining 22 books will be donated before the end of the semester.

“I don’t think we ever imagined that it would be this successful,” Edelstein said. “We knew it would be, but not this successful.”

She said she intends on having her students participate in a similar project next semester for a different school.

“The campaign is doing so well,” Edelstein said. “There’s this whole idea that a book is either a mirror or a window. A window is when you can’t see yourself and a mirror is when you can. Children are much more apt to read and feel good about what they’re reading if they can read a book that’s more like a mirror than a window.”

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