Medford resident and Shawnee High School student Capri Mills is organizing a book drive for the One Bright Ray Community High School in Philadelphia. Mills has collected over 2,000 books with the goal of building a library for the adult school, located on the campus of Strawberry Mansion High School.
MEDFORD — Township teen Capri Mills has been reading voraciously since she was a little girl.
Mills devours books in the young adult, fantasy and dystopian genres. Her favorite titles are “The Hunger Games” novels.
She was “always that girl who had a book at the dinner table,” she said.
Now, Mills is organizing a book drive to help other people gain access to her important passion.
The local teen is collecting books to help build a library at a Philadelphia high school.
Since April, Mills has been advertising her book drive by posting fliers in social media pages and by getting her parents to talk to people they know.
The Medford teen started with a goal of gathering 2,020 books in 2020. Just three months in, she has exceeded her goal, collecting piles upon piles of adult fiction, non-fiction and children’s books, among other genres.
The piles are sitting in the back of the Mills family home in the township. But soon enough, Mills and her parents, Jack and Colleen Mills, will transfer the books to the One Bright Ray Community High School in Philadelphia, an adult education school located on the campus of Strawberry Mansion High School.
One Bright Ray has five locations around the Philly area, and the Strawberry Mansion campus offers a day and night school for students age 18 and older to earn their general education diplomas.
The school caters to students who dropped out of high school or who speak English as a second language. It also admits people who need individualized education plans or who struggle with attention deficit disorder, among other issues that require certain students to learn at their own paces.
Many of the 350 students at the Strawberry Mansion campus struggle with reading due to their delayed and underdeveloped educations, according to academy officials. So, it is essential for them to have access to a library, which encourages students of all ages to learn to read by picking up books that interest them.
“Access to literary resources is a matter of equity and education,” said Arkadiy Yelman, the principal of One Bright Ray’s evening program at Strawberry Mansion. “You can’t expect people to achieve if they don’t have access to the same resources.”
At the beginning of the year, Mills knew she wanted to organize a book drive. She didn’t want to do it for school service hours, or anything like that. She just wanted to help people.
Her father knew she had this desire, and he also had a way to help her make it happen.
Jack Mills, coordinator of special projects for the Winslow Township School District in Camden County, is spending his spare time working toward his doctorate in education at Holy Family University.
As part of his program, Mills had to do some research at the One Bright Ray campus at Strawberry Mansion, and he noticed that the one-floor school did not have a library. So, one day before the coronavirus pandemic broke out, Mills sat down for coffee with Yelman and told him about his daughter’s idea, and suggested that it could work at the Mansion campus.
Yelman liked the idea, and that night, Mills went home and told his daughter.
“I like when you get a donation right in people’s hands. You can see the fruits of your labor and watch it go from point a to point b,” Jack Mills said of his pitch to Capri.
“She just ran with it,” he added. “That’s what’s so cool about social media. You can just put it out there and it flies.”
The pandemic has not affected the drive.
Donors are dropping off tubs of books at the Mills residence and then leaving. Jack and Capri are also picking up books by having people place them in their car.
It’s a touch-less process.
But the pandemic will likely affect the next phase: Building the library. The school building is not open right now, and Yelman is not sure if it will reopen for the fall.
Mills also has to figure out how to build the library. Her mother, Colleen, works for a construction company, INTECH, and Capri is hoping that she will get the company to make shelves and other materials.
But the process has not started just yet.
“I was going to go visit but it’s quarantine,” Mills said. “It’s really up to the school.”
Yelman does at least have a plan for running the library once it opens. He said it will be a self-service system, in which students check out books and return them on their own.
He also said that, even if the pandemic keeps the building closed this fall, the school will help the Mills family build the library and create an appointment system for students to check out books.
The principal wants to put the library in a large multipurpose room on the school’s single floor. He also hopes to distribute the books throughout the English classrooms, so English teachers can have “class libraries.”
Regardless of the circumstances, the vision should come to fruition this year.
“This has made me feel really, really happy,” Capri said.
The Medford teen “never expected it to go this far,” she said.
There are now more than 2,400 books in the Mills household, with four more pick-ups scheduled for this weekend, according to Jack Mills.
As donations keep coming in, Mills may look to expand her efforts to other schools, she said.
Somehow, even with two summer jobs, as a surf instructor and ice cream server in Wildwood, the Shawnee High School student is still finding time to read herself, too.
Mills is reading “Six of Crows” by Leigh Bardugo, a fantasy novel about assassins. Mills can’t imagine a day or week or month without having a book to enjoy.
Now, she wants other people to discover the same feeling.
“I’ve always loved reading,” she said. “I thought it would be great if I could share that with people who don’t have access to books like I do.”
In spreading her passion, she is building a healthier society, said Yelman.
“It has a generational effect,” he added. “If we want to create literate children, we need to help adults become the people who can do that.”