Chase Hartman, co-founder of “read.repeat.” and the nonprofit Eco Brothers.

Volunteering is an instrumental opportunity for youth to develop organizational and social skills while learning the importance of helping others and giving back to the community. Service has become an outlet for me to enjoy friendships, build leadership skills, and solve problems. When I was just 10 years old, I began a service project with my best friend called “read.repeat.” which, over the course of the last five years, has grown into its own nonprofit. My goal as a fifth grader was simple: to collect as many books as possible and give them to those in need. I’ve now distributed more than 170,000 books to locations in all 50 states, and I’ve raised more than $90,000 for literacy and the environment.

Devoting time to participate in service events while balancing a sometimes-overwhelming schedule of sports and academic events can be difficult. Discovering my passion for books and the need for more of them in struggling areas of our country is what made me grasp the fact that volunteering is not just an obligation but a way to develop new skills and compassion for those around me. Volunteering doesn’t have to be an all-encompassing commitment. But, by dedicating even a couple hours a week, students can make an impact.

Finding Your Passion

Discovering my passion for books and realizing that kids in struggling areas often don’t own any books of their own sparked a determination in me to create positive changes within my community. It all started with one small idea at the end of my fourth-grade year. My National Elementary Honor Society (NEHS) chapter was doing a book drive for a local homeless care facility where the admittance fee to a school dance was the donation of at least one book. Preparing for this one event changed the way I viewed my role in the world. I realized that even at my young age, I had the power to make a difference. The event was a great success and knowing that we were impacting people less fortunate with these books inspired me to do more. So, I began running my own book collection project and eventually realized these key points to staying motivated at a young age:

  • Finding activities that you enjoy can help spark a greater drive to stay involved in service.
  • Keeping events short will make the project feel less like a job. Plus, a quick event is easier for potential participants to fit into their schedules.
  • Action-oriented events can help the participants stay engaged. For young volunteers, we have them sort and count books into specific categories and age groups, so we’re organized and prepared for deliveries to schools.

Expanding Your Reach

As I ventured into middle school, my job responsibilities matured. I began running our Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts, and I communicated with adults to coordinate events. Once we developed a following on social media, “read.repeat.” was discovered by our county’s public school system, and we formed a partnership that has since impacted the lives of over 35,000 students in Hillsborough County, FL. It was exhilarating to meet with adults who understood that kids had the ability to help local schools and students. I believe that forming alliances with adults and companies has helped the project grow immensely.

I realized that whether you’re organizing an event or looking to participate in one, finding like-minded people can really help you. Friendships slowly become more important as kids grow older, and a welcoming club can motivate students to stay involved. When I became friends with many of my fellow students in NJHS, their motivation for service and interest in my project led to more collaborating, including hosting a book drive within the organization and getting my project recognized by every student and teacher in the school. Meeting new friends in clubs and getting support from my peers and family was important to me and made community service feel more socially acceptable.

Listen and Lead

As I grew, so did my project and eventually it was time to take it to the next level. In high school, I transitioned my service project into a 501(c)(3) nonprofit called Eco Brothers in hopes of expanding my reach and inspiring others. One of my goals was to connect with more students in my area, so I started a Youth Board with seven members to contribute fresh ideas and opinions on how teens could impact the community. With those ideas, we began offering opportunities for high school students to complete much needed, required community service hours.

As a student, I’m thankful for the many adults who have listened to my ideas on how I can help, and I feel it’s important for more teens to have our voices heard. We have many valuable opinions that need to be considered, but some might be intimidated to speak out. When I encourage my Youth Board to share ideas for upcoming events, I notice that they are more excited to be involved. I feel young people can offer a different way to look at problems, which can lead to refreshing approaches to change. In addition, I’m proud that the Youth Board is structured so that each member gets an equal opportunity to experience leadership.

At first, looking back at my journey of service from elementary school to high school can seem a little overwhelming. If I said aloud as a 10-year old that I was going to donate 170,000 books and raise nearly $100,000 for community initiatives, people might have said that would be impossible, underestimating my potential because of my age. My project began with a lot of adult support when I was in elementary school, and now I feel I’m able to encourage young people to be leaders by showing them a good example and including as many people as I can in our efforts.

As of now, I’ve dedicated more than 1,000 hours to service, but I was able to stay motivated because I enjoyed every minute of it. I set and achieved small goals and took everything one step at a time, and I really enjoyed the process of creating positive change. I’ve built a successful nonprofit with the help of hundreds of students, teachers, media specialists, and principals in my county, and I was given so much encouragement along the way. —

Chase Hartman is a sophomore at Sickles High School in Tampa, FL, where he is a member of student government, and he’s also an Eagle Scout. His service has been recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency’s President’s Environmental Youth Award, Florida’s Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, and he was named Community Hero of Tomorrow by the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team.

If you want to get involved with “read.repeat.,” contact Hartman via email at [email protected]