Brock students advocate for literacy and mental health

A group of second-year students at Brock haven’t let the global pandemic stand in the way of their goals to foster literacy and support mental health. If anything, it became their inspiration.

Earlier this fall, the members of BookWorm delivered parcels of motivational letters written by children to frontline health-care workers, and they are gearing up for their next project with a global focus.

BookWorm is made up of founder Annilea Purser, Kendall Caperchione, Ben Mandigo, Daniel Krowchuk and Andrew Lawrence, who began working together in March 2020 to reimagine Purser’s original concept for a non-profit group that could share the gift of reading with marginalized populations, such as at-risk youth and unhoused people.

In 2017, Purser led a book drive in a northern Ontario community. She and a team of friends and family members collected some 7,000 books and organized them by reading level into gift baskets, which were then distributed to at-risk youth — and BookWorm was born.

The project saw a hiatus during Purser’s first few months at Brock, but when the Political Science student connected with peers who shared her passion for literacy last winter, she realized there were many more opportunities to make a difference.

“It has been incredibly inspiring for me to see my initial concept of BookWorm from when I was younger grow to be a multi-faceted, group-led organization,” said Purser. “To me, the most notable aspect of this transition has been how well our team functions together, especially amidst a pandemic. Each individual has not only committed many hours to the cause, but also contributed their own personal skills and experiences to developing our mission.”

Since COVID-19 prevented the collection of books from households for a book drive, the BookWorm team soon landed on an alternate project — orchestrating a letter-writing campaign in support of frontline workers.

Clockwise from the top left, Ben Mandigo (International Business), Kendall Caperchione (Political Science), Daniel Krowchuk (Medical Sciences) and Andrew Lawrence (Political Science), with Annilea Purser visible in the bottom corner, make up BookWorm, a non-profit group interested in increasing literacy.

Working with elementary school teachers, and with the support of a Rising Youth Grant from the federal government, the group organized the ‘COVID Campaign,’ creating an online form and inviting children from elementary schools in Niagara and Halton to compose letters of support and gratitude for frontline workers with the support of their teachers.

The letters were printed, assembled into booklets and turned over to Joseph Brant Hospital, where they were left in staff rooms for workers to peruse when in need of a word of encouragement during the intense pressure of the pandemic.

The BookWorm team now plans to launch a new fundraiser starting in December selling ‘Study and Work @ Home’ kits and donating proceeds to ACT for HOPE, an organization based in Jinja, Uganda that will use the funds to purchase school books for 50 young people.

Purser said her studies in Political Science have helped focus her passion for addressing inequalities affecting Canadians.

“At Brock, I am able to shape my studies around my interests, expand my knowledge and directly apply what I have learned to the growth of BookWorm,” she said. “I have been fortunate enough to be taught by great professors who have shaped my view of the world and challenged me to think about the social impacts and privileges of my actions in everyday life, something that has helped form BookWorm into a socially conscious organization.”

Anyone interested in learning more about BookWorm can visit their web site.

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