It started with two sisters, Cory and Hope Pawar, and a simple idea. They wanted a way to collect new books and donate them to the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles where several friends had been treated for cancer. They called it Books of Hope.
That was six years ago, when Cory was a seventh grader Miraleste Intermediate and Hope was in kindergarten at Dapplegray Elementary. That first year they delivered a single green bin to the Children’s Hospital during the holidays.
This month the group is embarking on its 6th annual book drive with expectations to fill at least seven bins from donation sites at most Palos Verdes elementary schools and other spots around town.
Cory, 18, who’s now a freshman at UC Irvine, is even getting her new sorority involved. She said she wanted a way to share the gift of reading that she so enjoyed during her childhood.
“Growing up I loved reading,” Cory said. “I wanted somebody else to experience the same things I did. We had friends and family who were there, so we thought donating books to the hospital would be a good way to give back to the community with something we’ve enjoyed.”
Over the past six years, the Books of Hope program has donated more than 1,400 new books to the Children’s Hospital. Claire Austin, director of the hospital’s Literally Healing Program, says the books make a tremendous difference in the stay of a child.
“The patients just love it,” Austin said. “They may be gifting a book to a child who doesn’t own any books. The other reason the books are wonderful is that they are normalizing. Storytelling is a universal modality for connections and inspiration. The families get that normality within the walls of a hospital during a time in their lives when things can be very stressful.”
The Children’s Hospital logs about 350,000 patient visits per year with some of the most complicated cases a child may ever have to go through. During their stay, Austin and her team provide books and reads to patients at their rooms.
Thanks in large part to donations by the Books of Hope program, the Children’s Hospital maintains a gifting library where patients are entitled to one free book per day. Families can also relax in the library and try to relieve the stress that can come from medical issues.
“It makes me feel good because it helps the kids too,” said Hope, aged 11.
Last year, the hospital gifted 30,000 books to its patients. Some of those books deal directly with significant challenges that patients might be having in their lives, such as hair loss from chemotherapy, the loss of a sibling or loss of a partial limb.
“These books present these messages in very accessible ways for the children,” Austin said. “The more direct benefactor for the Books of Hope program is the gifting library which gives books to our patient’s families to lift their spirits, to distract them and give them skills that the children need to have wider horizons in life.”
She said the Books of Hope program shows tremendous leadership.
“In this age when attention spans can be limited, the fact that they have diligently and caringly for six years cared about our patient families is to me very inspiring – that the future adults of society are caring and achieving,” Austin said.
Over the years as the program developed, it’s become much larger than the Pawar family, drawing volunteers from the community including the Los Angeles Police Department Harbor Division that keeps a donation bin at their office. The girls also attended the Los Angeles Festival of Books where they personally walked around and spoke to various authors requesting donations.
“I definitely didn’t think it was going to get as big as it did,” Cory said. “But I’m really happy it’s turned out the way it did.”
Each holiday season for the Books of Hope program begins with many of the volunteers getting together at the Pawar’s house to decorate boxes and create posters and flyers.
“Hope has had her friends come over and paint the boxes and make posters,” said mother Diane Pawar. “They make T-shirts at school. And they’re all helping in some way or another. They seem to be having a lot of fun while they’re doing it. It’s nice to see the kids want to help her do this.
Cory said the Books of Hope experience has inspired her to participate in other volunteer opportunities such as working with the Court Appointed Special Advocates program. For mother Diane Pawar, she can’t help be extremely proud.
“They’ve really come a long way,” she said.
Along with collecting books, the Books of Hope program also sells wrist bands in order to purchase books of particular need. This year drop off locations around town will be at Miraleste, Dapplegray, The Book Frog and Dominick’s Pizza. Only new books can be accepted because of health reasons. For more on the Books of Hope program and to view the “wish list” of the most requested books go to www.booksofhope.net.