Want to Give Back More? You Will After Hearing From This 15-Year-Old Philanthropic Badass

sarah-dewitz just 1 book
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Working at TeenNick, I’m super lucky to be on a committee that helps select each month’s HALO EFFECT awardee. An off-shoot of the annual HALO AWARDS, the HALO EFFECT honors a different young person each month who’s shown a commitment to Helping And Leading Others. (HALO, get it?) Each awardee gets recognized on-air and receives a $5,000 donation to support the charity initiative they support.

Like a Boss Girls profiled past winner Nicholas Cobb, and this month I’m honored to talk to 15-year-old Sarah Dewitz, a teen who’s made a real difference with her Just 1 Book initiative.

Just 1 Book began when Sarah was just 10-years-old. One morning, Sarah’s mom, Sharlene, shared a newspaper article highlighting the financial struggles of a nearby community. “Even though the article didn’t say that the children needed books, I figured that, if families were struggling with everyday bills, then the kids might not have books. This was how I wanted to help,” said Sarah. She put together a proposal for her principal, Dr. Ruth Haniff, to gain support. “I asked if every child in my school could bring in ”Just 1 Book” for the community center. Dr. Haniff agreed, and that is how it all started,” recalls Sarah.

The program’s genius lies in making philanthropy and social awareness so incredibly accessible by asking people to donate “just 1 book.” Working with Kiwanis Clubs, Just 1 Book was able to expand not only throughout the entire state of Florida, but also throughout New Jersey, North Carolina and Virginia! Books by the thousands are brought to Community Centers, where volunteers install comfy “reading rooms” where children can come and enjoy books on site, and also take them home to keep as their own.

Since Just 1 Book’s inception, it has collected and distributed over 100,000 books! “The book drives have become such a great success that we don’t count anymore. Since Just 1 Book received a donated bookmobile from Orange County, we can now reach even MORE children who are in need of books.”

When asked how long she intended to try and carry on with her non-profit book donation and distribution program, Just 1 Book, 13-year-old Sarah Dewitz exclaimed, “For the rest of my life! I can’t imagine ever living without it!”  I recently had the chance to interview Sarah about her non-profit and about how other girls might learn from her example and start their own social entrepreneur initiatives:

So Sarah, tell us your story — how did you first start making a difference and working to improve people’s lives?

SARAH: The first time I ever got involved with community service was when I was 6 years old. My family and I packed sandwiches and drinks for the homeless around downtown Orlando and distributed them. It was a life-changing experience for me and inspired me to always help the community.


How did
Just 1 Book get started?

SARAH: When I was in the fourth grade, my mom showed me a newspaper article that she had been reading. I read it as well and it was about a town, not too far from where I live, that wasn’t doing very well with finances. I figured that if families couldn’t afford utilities in their homes, they couldn’t afford books. I love to read and couldn’t imagine not being able to read. I wrote a proposal to my school principal asking if every student at my school could bring in “Just 1 book” for a fellow child in need. This got the ball rolling for Just 1 Book.

 

Was your young age an obstacle, a liability — or did it work to your advantage?

SARAH: I think it was all three, actually. It was an obstacle because I was very inexperienced and didn’t really know the ins and outs of having a business. It was a liability because some people weren’t taking Just 1 Book seriously because it was founded by a ten year old. It was an advantage in the sense that a lot of people see how a child could make a difference.

What has Just 1 Book done and whom has it impacted so far?

SARAH: Just 1 Book has been distributing books to children and families in need for almost five years. For three of those years, one of my charity’s biggest helpers was our bookmobile. We have impacted all the families that have received books on our watch and it is great to see those families with books in their hands and smiles on their faces.

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What have you learned from your entrepreneurial experience?

SARAH: I have learned that just thinking about something and not doing anything about it isn’t going to help anyone. You have to take action and do what’s right. Speak up.

What has surprised you? What mistakes have you made? (What would you do differently today?

SARAH: I think one thing that has surprised me the most has been how accepting all of my supporters have been of me. If I could do one thing differently, it would probably be involving more of my friends because I would have loved to have more of my peers working side by side with me.

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Sarah, one of the things that really knocked me out when I first spoke with you is how incredibly articulate, mature and poised you are when speaking about Just 1 Book. How did you become such a poised and articulate? You never seem to get nervous or crack under pressure!

SARAH: I started public speaking at a young age. I can tell you that when Just 1 Book started, I was petrified when I had to speak in front of people. After a while, I got used to it and I used to think of the audience as members of my family. (I would be laughing too hard if I imagined them in their underwear!) Also, I have an extensive vocabulary due to all the reading I do!

No surprise there!  Last but not least, any advice for the young women reading this?

SARAH: If I had to give one piece of advice, it would be to follow your dreams and don’t let anybody tell you that an idea is terrible!

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