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Cedar Rapids Girl Scout's project helps put books in hands of children

Leah Crilley, 14, earned Silver Girl Scout Award

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CEDAR RAPIDS — When friends told Leah Crilley they sometimes threw away their old books, she went to work on a program to put those books into the hands of children instead of in the trash.

Crilley, 14 thought students at her former elementary school would want to keep the books she grew up reading time and time again — titles like “Goodnight Moon,” “Clifford the Big Red Dog” and “Berenstain Bears.”

“I’ve always liked reading, and a lot of people at Pierce (Elementary) don’t have their own books, they just go the library,” Leah said. “When you own a book, it feels different and you can read it again.”

Leah kick-started a project called “Always a Book” at Pierce Elementary, 4343 Marilyn Drive NE, that earned her the Silver Girl Scout Award — the second-highest award given by the organization.

She began with a book drive at the elementary school in the spring. She was then an eighth-grader at Franklin Middle School in Cedar Rapids and now attends Kennedy High.

She collected about 500 gently used books at multiple grade levels through the drive.

Pierce Elementary Principal Carla Davidson said those books are going home with students by being added to backpacks some take home on the weekends that are filled with single-serve food items. That program, Operation Backpack, is run by the Hawkeye Area Community Action Program.

“Not only is food going home, but kids are collecting books that they can keep at home,” Davidson said.

That’s important, Leah’s father Mike Crilley said, as children often grow attached to their favorite books and stories.

“If it’s your own book, it’s something special like a friend you could go to,” Mike Crilley said. “And even if you’re reading it over and over, you can still build up your reading skills.”

Davidson said Pierce Elementary plans to continue the Always a Book program.

“This could be a living, breathing thing that could continue,” Davidson said. “ ... It’s admirable, the initiative of a young lady to want to give back to the elementary she attended. I thought that was such an admirable thing.”

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