On weekends, Kelly Willinger makes the journey to Long Island with an empty suitcase in tow. She’s going to the Book Fairies warehouse, where educators can receive free books for their schools. Kelly has a bit of a reputation there.
“I do ‘Supermarket Sweeps’ around the place. I’m known for taking the most books,” she laughs.
It’s a haul back to Harlem, where Kelly has given away more than 455,000 books to the children in Promise Academy® I.
Using her strategic relentlessness and ingenuity, Kelly created the school’s newest library. She also organizes school-wide reading marathons, coordinates a curriculum library for teachers, and engages hundreds of children to become enthusiastic readers. In the 2018 school year alone, PAI students read 75,000 books.
“Everyone [in HCZ] has a piece of the puzzle they put together,” said Willinger. “I’m happy I found my niche.”
Willinger grew up loving the experience of sharing books. Her mother, a librarian, brought Willinger to the library to explore – where she would read everything and anything. In school, Willinger’s classmates enjoyed the “Goosebumps” books with the lights off and a flashlight under their chins.
“Often, you think of reading as sitting by yourself and being quiet. But it could also be an incredibly fun, social experience,” said Willinger. “I want that for our kids.”
When a second-grader expressed that he loved dinosaurs, Willinger found books he might enjoy. She also read some non-fiction about dinosaurs so she can keep up in conversations with the student. Willinger often exchanges recommendations with her students when she walks the halls.
“I want to know what our children are reading, and I want to read it, too,” said Willinger. “I’ve read more ‘Captain Underpants’ than I know what to do with.”
One of the best ways to get one of Willinger’s recommendations is the book vending machine — a fully operational vending machine that gives students a bestselling book with a special token. Students of the week and those who read the most books for the week can receive a token.