Book by book, a local teen is trying to do his part to make a difference in the community.
As an avid reader himself, 13-year-old Vance Tomasi understands the value of having a broad range of books to choose from.
After seeing his younger brother improve his reading during Hillsborough County Public School’s annual Summer Reading Camp, Tomasi saw the value of that even more so.
At the same time, Tomasi worried about underprivileged kids who didn’t own books, when he was told the county’s reading program had a shortage of books a couple summers ago.
So, he got to thinking he could do something about it.
It all started more about two years ago with a book drive for homeless families.
The possibilities blossomed from there for Tomasi, now a seventh grader at Keystone’s Farnell Middle School.
Tomasi and his friend, Chase Hartman, set up a website and social media accounts, and partnered with the Hillsborough County school district to donate books. Then they began organizing book drives with Boy Scout troops, sports teams, school clubs and other groups. They placed donation boxes around town, and recruited volunteers to sort and box the books they received.
In addition to book drives, Tomasi purchased 25,000 books with a grant he obtained from the Tampa Bay Lightning, and found a book company willing to donate thousands of additional books.
He did it all through a nonprofit organization he founded, called “read.repeat.” Its mission is to donate gently used books it receives from companies and individuals, and distribute them to those in need.
“I really got the idea from another book fundraiser I did in elementary school and decided to basically grow it from there,” Tomasi said. “I love to volunteer.”
The project has expanded more than ever imagined.
Since its inception, read.repeat. has donated more than 90,000 books to families, schools, group homes, hospitals and libraries in all 50 states, and as far away as Africa.
That includes about 60,000 books donated to children in Florida elementary schools, many of which have gone to Title I schools, or those with large concentrations of low-income students.
Centennial Elementary in Dade City and the Joshua House Children’s Home in Lutz are also a couple of the local beneficiaries, among many other Tampa-area schools and groups.
Being able to help underprivileged kids in some way brings joy to the teen.
“It makes me feel amazing, Tomasi said. “Just to see the looks on their faces, like they get their first book, it’s an incredible feeling.”
“I was never really expecting it to grow this big,” he said.
The teen’s humanitarian efforts have gone on to draw national recognition. He was recently named one of America’s top 10 youth volunteers for 2019 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a national program sponsored by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).
Tomasi and other national honorees were selected first from a field of more than 29,000 middle level and high school youth volunteers nationwide, and then from 102 state honorees, based on their initiative, effort, impact, and the personal growth demonstrated in the course of their volunteer service.
Tomasi and the honorees each received a $5,000 personal award, an engraved gold medallion, a crystal trophy for their school, and a $5,000 grant from The Prudential Foundation for charities of their choice.
They each also received an all-expense paid trip to Washington D.C., where they were recognized at Union Station East Hall and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.
During the trip, Tomasi got a tour of various landmarks in the nation’s capital. He also met Florida Senator Rick Scott.
And, his group visited a D.C. area elementary school, donating books and reading to children.
In starting read.repeat., Tomasi was simply hoping to help others, not necessarily receive national recognition. He’s humbled by it all.
“I was really, really surprised. I was not expecting that at all,” Tomasi said of being named one the country’s top youth volunteers. “I was never really expecting me to become a national honoree out of all the people that were there.”
The nonprofit isn’t slowing in momentum by any means.
Tomasi said one of his goals this summer is to share more books that celebrate diversity with other children.
Their next big delivery is to Cleveland Elementary School in Tampa, which is set to receive about 3,000 donated books.
For information or interest in donating books, visit readrepeat.org.
Published May 22, 2019