Guadalupe Center received more than 3,500 books following a two-week collection at Canterbury School coordinated by BelieveNBooks, a newly created nonprofit organization focused on making books accessible to all children.

BelieveNBooks Founder Natasha Agarwal, a 14-year-old eighth-grader at Canterbury School in Fort Myers, formed the philanthropic organization to reduce inequities that prevent some children from reading at home.

“Over lockdown when COVID first started, I was reading a lot more at my house,” she said. “I realized not everyone was able to freely read whenever they wanted, and I really wanted to change that in my community.”

Natasha’s mother, Aditi Maheshwari, serves on the Fundraising Advisory Council at Guadalupe Center, a nonprofit with a mission of breaking the cycle of poverty through education for the children of Immokalee. Maheshwari suggested that BelieveNBooks’ first major collection benefit students at Guadalupe Center. The collection’s initial goal was 1,000 books, but Canterbury students, parents, faculty and staff ended up donating more than 3,500 books.

“It wasn’t that surprising because that’s what Canterbury is all about,” said Sharon Laconi, head of Canterbury’s middle school. “When we set a goal, we always exceed it because our families and our community are so willing to give to others.”

Student volunteers retrieved books from collection bins throughout Canterbury School, then organized and boxed books based on reading level. Guadalupe Center transported the books back to Immokalee and distributed them to students in its nationally accredited Early Childhood Education Program, After-school Tutoring & Summer Enrichment Program and college-preparatory Tutor Corps Program.

In Immokalee, 97% of students are classified as economically needy. With limited resources, many families lack reading materials at home or transportation to visit public libraries.

“Guadalupe Center’s overall goal is to level the playing field so students aren’t disadvantaged academically because of their family’s financial situation,” said Guadalupe Center President Dawn Montecalvo, who recently joined BelieveNBooks’ Board of Directors. “Thanks to the generosity of BelieveNBooks and Canterbury School, some of our students will have their own books at home for the first time.”

Following its first major collection, BelieveNBooks is looking for additional schools and community groups to lead book drives, as well as business or corporate partners to provide financial support.

“This is really an organization started by a child that we want to run predominantly by children, for other children,” Maheshwari said. “We hope to get other schools involved and have student ambassadors from other schools who would be interested in running book drives, and we also hope to partner with some other organizations in addition to Guadalupe.”

For more information about BelieveNBooks, please call 239-295-8302 or email info@BelieveNBooks.org.

About Guadalupe Center
Guadalupe Center is a purpose-driven, nonprofit organization with proven results in creating endless possibilities for the students of Immokalee through education and fostering personal and academic success that leads to economic independence. With a focus on breaking the cycle of poverty through education, Guadalupe Center is proud of the children’s accomplishments: 95% meet or exceed kindergarten readiness measures, 100% of Tutor Corps high school seniors graduate high school and are accepted into college, and more than 94% graduate with a post-secondary degree.