HOPKINS — Maria and Ryan Keller just collected their 3 millionth book through their nonprofit Read Indeed.
Orono High School graduate Maria Keller, now 19, started Read Indeed when she was in elementary school. She read a lot as a kid, and when she was 8 she had a conversation with her mom about kids who don’t read as much her. Her mother explained that some kids don’t have access to books in their homes like she does.
Maria wanted to change that, so she put together a book drive.
“My mom is an editor, so she receives children’s books all the time,” Maria told Lakeshore Weekly News. “We have a lot of books in our home and we’ve just always been encouraged to read as a family. And it’s always been an important part of our lives. I was shocked to learn that some kids didn’t have books in their homes — didn’t have a book of their own.”
After the first book drive in the spring of 2009, Maria and her mother, Maura Keller, decided to keep collecting books for kids in need. Read Indeed was born.
The Kellers kept count of how many books they have collected over the 10 years Read Indeed has been in operation. That number just hit 3 million.
“I guess we’re shooting for 4 [million] now,” Maria said with a laugh when asked what the nonprofit’s next book goal was.
Read Indeed’s 3 millionth book happened to be one of the siblings’ favorites from childhood — their mom used to read it to them — called “Blueberries for Sal” by Robert McCloskey. They didn’t plan the milestone book, but Maria and Ryan are both glad it held special significance to them.
Maria ran Read Indeed out of the Keller’s Plymouth home for several years, with books piling up in the dining room and then later taking over the family’s two-car garage. After a donation of 40,000 books in 2010, the Kellers decided they should look for another space to store the books.
They found a warehouse in Hopkins at 625 St. Louis St., owned by the Beard family, who allows them to use the space rent-free — Read Indeed just pays the property taxes on the space.
How it works
The nonprofit has a large base of volunteers who help sort through the donated books, putting them in age-appropriate piles. Read Indeed gets its books almost exclusively from people who hold book drives to collect books for the nonprofit.
The warehouse is then open every other Saturday for people to drop off donations and for teachers to come pick out books for their students. Around 20 teachers usually show up on the days Read Indeed is open.
The books don’t stay in the classroom, though. The nonprofit asks that the books go home with students, Maria said. This is important to her because she read studies that found having books at home is beneficial to young kids because reading then becomes part of their home life.
Sometimes larger organizations, such as the Salvation Army, collect books from the warehouse, but Read Indeed prefers to distribute the donated books through teachers who know their students best, Maria explained.
Read Indeed also organizes book drives across the world allowing it to claim operation in all 50 states and 17 countries.
Providence High School sophomore Ryan, 15, was just 5 years old when his sister started collecting books. He grew up volunteering for his sister’s organization, and was given the title of CEO last year when Maria went off to her freshman year of college at the University of Notre Dame.
The siblings still make the big decisions together, with the help of their mother, but Ryan runs Read Indeed’s day-to-day operations.
“It’s been great,” Ryan said when asked how it was growing up with the nonprofit. “I’ve always felt like I am a special kid. I get this great opportunity to volunteer on a weekly basis and help literacy expand.”
The nonprofit works under the guidance of a Board of Directors and a Youth Advisory Council. The board is made up of people of all ages, including Maria, while 15 year olds, many of whom are Ryan’s friends from schools from across the west metro, make up the Youth Advisory Council. The council comes up with new ideas for the nonprofit and tends to spend a lot of time volunteering in the warehouse.
Maria and Ryan already have a plan for Read Indeed when Ryan goes off to college in a few years. The siblings hope to find another teenager who has volunteered with Read Indeed to take over as CEO. Maria believes the organization should stay in young hands to teach more teenagers the skills she learned while running an organization.
Those interested in donating books, volunteering or picking up books for kids in need can visit readindeed.org.