Alexis Peddy ’22 loves to read. As an avid reader, encouraging and helping children access books has been a longtime interest of hers.
“My family has a close friend who is an English as a Second Language (ESOL) teacher, and they told me that many children don’t have a lot of books at home,” said Alexis. “When I was 13, I donated many of my books to make a library for her class.”
A few years later in the fall of 2019, Alexis was working on a research project for her AP Capstone course. She learned a remarkable statistic about foster children and literacy.
“I went to the Urban League of Broward County where I spoke with Dr. Germaine Smith-Baugh, their CEO,” said Alexis. “She brought up a statistic about literacy rates and the correlation seen within the prison population, more specifically the foster care to prison pipeline.”
“I have always been interested in community organizing,” she continued. “Knowing about children’s lack of access to books from my family friend, and then learning about what that lack of access can translate to as children become adults from the Urban League, inspired me to do something. I started brainstorming with the Urban League and asked what needs they were seeing in the community. We talked about literacy — and then the global COVID-19 pandemic started.”
It was then that Alexis began laying the groundwork for what would become Elevate BC. A mutual aid organization focused on community values, “we are not so much a charity as an organization fostering solidarity and neighborly consciousness,” said Alexis. “We are trying to spread kindness, generosity, and understanding about the varying experiences with COVID-19.”
“People in our position, with resources and access, are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel with this virus,” said Alexis. “But for a lot of people who live five to 10 minutes away from us, even in the same zip code, that isn’t the case. Many folks are having problems paying rent, buying groceries, even maintaining their jobs. I just want to help someone keep the lights on for their children.”
Alexis also continued working with the Urban League. “I created a Google form,” said Alexis, “for people who applied for assistance from the utility relief fund but had been denied. Those were the people we started helping first. I needed to make connections between those who needed assistance and those with the funds to help. Over the summer, we fundraised and I created our website. Urban League sent an email to their contacts introducing us and shared our Google form. From there, our efforts spread by word of mouth.”
Alexis created a second Google Form for donors.
“I secured $5,000 to ensure I could get Elevate BC off the ground,” she said. “Then, I started sharing a second Google Form to collect interest from donors. We have been focused on making connections; not just asking people to donate, but introducing them to individuals or families who need help and opening the dialogue and encouraging them to have a conversation. The goal is not to put all the power in the hands of the donor or to make those getting help feel like they are receiving an impersonal handout. We generally match people based on dollar amounts specified to avoid a situation where someone walks away unhappy. One person shared with me that they received a photo of an empty refrigerator. Seeing the effects of COVID like that was impactful and heartbreaking.”
In addition to helping people get financial help, Alexis is also collecting, purchasing, and distributing books to children and families.
“We have expanded our literacy branch,” she said. “Because people are struggling, they can’t afford to prioritize buying books or other things their kids may need. One of our donors had given us the money to purchase and distribute learn-to-read books for three to six year olds. I have met a lot of parents who say their kids love books, or that they have older kids who don’t know how to read yet. We have been able to get books for more grade-levels and we are working on distributing them to as many families as possible.”
When asked what she is most proud of thus far, Alexis is surprised by how much help has been given in the short six months of Elevate BC’s existence.
“Being able to lift others up at a time when people really need it is what I am most proud of,” said Alexis. “ I never had specific number goals. I just thought ‘let me try and see where I can make a difference.’ People send me videos of their children singing or thanking us for the books, and that makes the work worth it.”
As for what Alexis plans to do next with Elevate BC, she is in the process of applying for non-profit status.
“I hope to partner with Publix and other local organizations to help more people,” said Alexis. “ Having the non-profit status will help facilitate those types of partnerships. I want to continue to help people and try to make more meaningful connections with businesses in the community. I hope they start to see the positive impact they can have on their communities when they reach out and work to make a difference.”