When Amanda Crowe, an eighth grader at the Montrose School in Natick, was called down to the principal’s office recently, she never expected she was about to hear some of the best news of her life.
"My principal came up to me and closed the door, and I was kind of nervous 'cause, you know, you don't go every day to the principal's office," Crowe recalled. But her anxiety quickly passed when she heard that she had been named one of Massachusetts's two top youth volunteers for 2004 by the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a national program that honors students for exceptional acts of volunteerism in their communities.
Crowe remembered feeling “really shocked, but really happy” when her principal, Karen E. Bohlin, told her she had been awarded the program’s silver medal, $1,000 and an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C., for a recognition ceremony in May. “I was actually speechless for about five minutes,” Crowe said.
Crowe, who is 13 years old, won the award because of the semi-annual book drives she has been holding for the past six years. She and her family deliver the approximately 5,000 books they collect at the drives each spring and fall to the waiting rooms of local hospitals.
The idea for the book drive began when Crowe was 7 years old. Her father had been recently diagnosed with cancer and was spending a lot of time in the hospital for surgery and treatments. She and her older sister sat for many hours in hospital waiting rooms with no diversion except the television. To pass the time, they started to bringing books to read.
"We just started to bring books because we were dying of boredom because television isn't all that educational," Crowe said. After some time, they realized other children would get the same enjoyment from books in the waiting room.
In the first year of the book drive, Crowe collected 800 books at her school. Over time, she began enlisting her classmates and friends to collect books from their schools, churches, local libraries and recycling centers. Crowe estimates that they have collected and delivered over 12,000 books since the drives began.
"I think I'm kind of blessed to be given the gift of being able to give back to the community," said Crowe. "It's a good opportunity for me to give back to the people that don't have as much as me, who are less fortunate, and I'm actually pretty proud of myself and all that I've accomplished."
"But you know you can never stop; you always have to add on to what you're doing," Crowe continued. "I hope to keep doing [the book drives] in the future and keep having great successes with it."
Crowe plans to save a portion of the $1,000 she received from the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program for college and use the rest to buy even more books for her book drives. She also hopes to eventually expand the drives and deliver books, not only to hospitals, but to shelters and clinics as well.
In May, she will join other student volunteers from around the country and Puerto Rico in Washington, D.C., for several days of national appreciation events. There, 10 state winners will be chosen as America’s top youth volunteers. Crowe hopes she will come home one of the top 10, but said the reaction she gets from those who receive her books is the best kind of recognition.
"I've always said, the best thing I can get back is not just the thank you's but the smiles on the kids' faces when they receive the books," Crowe said. "It's amazing the gratitude you get back and you don't even need to hear thank you -- you see it in their faces."
Montrose School, serving grades six through 12, is an independent, all-girls college preparatory school inspired by the teachings of the Catholic Church and the philosophy of St. Josemaria Escriva.