Girl Scouts making a difference through books

Julia McKenzie, left, and Violet Schafer, right, are Girl Scout Cadettes who are working to make sure books and reading are accessible to everyone, no matter their income levels.

Teens want everyone to have access to reading

Violet Schafer and Julia McKenzie, both 14, are working on the highest honor a Girl Scout Cadette can achieve: the Silver Award. 

To do this, the girls are focusing on literacy and books and making sure everyone has access, no matter their socioeconomic status. 

Violet and Julia decided to construct a Little Free Library outside of the new location of the Holding Hands Daycare, 1229 East Seventh St. The little library will be constructed in the spring. 

Little Free Libraries are small wooden boxes people construct near their homes where neighbors can pick up a book and return a book for free.

The girls’ project doesn’t just involve building a Little Free Library, but also includes learning about low-income households and how that can affect a child’s ability to learn.


Reading and success

The Little Free Library made sense to the girls, whose troop is based out of the Como Park neighborhood of St. Paul. The project tied together previous skills they had learned in the Girl Scouts, such as the woodworking skills they learned at a recent workshop. 

Their hope is that the East Seventh Street little library will make books more accessible for those who may have difficulties getting to a public library and will encourage strong reading skills.

 “It sort of gives the library experience without having to find a big library and all the travel to get to one,” Violet said. 

Not only that, Violet and Julia began to realize their strong love for books today stemmed from an early exposure to books and reading when they were much younger. 

“We just remembered how we loved books when were kids and we still do. I think it’s good for little kids to have the opportunity to read books,” Julia explained.

“It’s been a very big part of Julia and my childhood,” Violet added.

They decided the concern and issue they wanted to focus on was “access to books for young children in low-income areas.”

“It’s [reading] a really important skill to learn and to know,” Violet said.

“It helps them with their learning in kindergarten,” Julia noted. She said some kids enter kindergarten not knowing how to read simple words, which puts them behind their peers. Julia and Violet hope to help expose the kids to reading early on to give them a strong literary foundation.


Lessons for life

Julia and Violet explained that for their Silver Award project, they had to do research about their community concern, find a project that would help the community and for the project to be sustainable for a year or more. 

After their application for their Little Free Library was approved, the girls toured the East Side with Ramsey County commissioner Janice Rettman during the spring. They learned about the issues people face in low-income areas and why people end up struggling financially. 

After the tour another troop member and her mother suggested reaching out to the Holding Hands Daycare, owned and operated by East Side resident Danette Allrich.

“I think reading is so important for little kids,” said Allrich, who added that the first time she met the girls, she “just knew” their project was a perfect fit for her daycare. 

Violet and Julia asked Allrich if she would be interested in having a Free Little Library outside of her daycare. The girls would sustain it for a year, adding books and making repairs. After a year, Allrich would adopt the library.

“These girls are going to be leaders,” said Allrich, who accepted their offer. 

Not only are the girls constructing the Little Free Library, they have also been stopping by the daycare once a month to read to the toddlers. 

The girls pick out books from the public library that they remember enjoying when they were much younger. 

 “It’s kind of like a blast from the past,” Violet said. 

In the next few months, the girls are planning to have a book drive where local East Side businesses and churches will have donation boxes for people to donate their gently used kids books. 

Overall the entire project will require a minimum of 50 hours to complete, which includes presenting their research findings and project plan to local organizations.

“It’s nice to do something you really care about,” Violet said. 

“It’s not only good for my daycare, it’s good for the community, it’s good for the neighborhood,” Allrich added.


Marjorie Otto can be reached at 651-748-7816 or at Follow her on Twitter at @EastSideM_Otto.

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