Reading on the Road

The sole purpose of Reading on the Road is simple… provide books to those who want and need them.

Reading on the Road — a volunteer-run nonprofit created by Keene High School student and rising senior Amelia Opsahl and several of her friends — strives to improve literacy comprehension in kids while also getting them enthusiastic about reading. The ultimate goal for this nonprofit is to provide easy access to books to get kids to read more and enjoy it.

Reading on the Road first started on the region’s school buses — specifically, the local SAU 29 and SAU 60 school districts and First Student Inc. (the bus company for the SAU 29 district.

“My mom is a librarian up in Alstead,” Opsahl said. “She gets a lot of discards at the library, so she was giving them to the local bus drivers to help keep the kids from being disruptive on the buses, because that was a pretty big problem at the time.”

Soon enough, Opshal and her mother realized that by letting the children browse or take home books while riding the bus, they were not only deescalating disruptive behaviors, but giving kids who do not otherwise have easy access to reading material some books to try out and potentially get them interested in reading.

“I’ve taken advantage of the fact that I’ve always had a bookshelf,” Opsahl said. “I never really thought much about how people might not have that easy access to books before. But watching those kids chase after the bus just to see if there were any more books for them to take home might have been the best part. It was so nice to see.”

The Reading team hit the ground running from there, seeking and receiving many donations from local libraries, community members, yard sales and local teachers to feed those books right back into the community.

“It was a huge community effort!” Opsahl said. “Everyone in the community was awesome about helping out.”

After COVID-19 hit, Reading still managed to keep in contact with its community members to keep the book re-gifting alive. If anything, they’ve never been busier.

“Before the pandemic, we hadn’t been doing any direct home delivery, we had been working with mostly afterschool programs,” she said. “When the pandemic hit and all the public places with our book drop offs and pickups closed down, we started wondering how we were going to reach the kids who might not otherwise have access to new books during this time.”

Opsahl and her team set up a delivery system… delivering books in the area to anyone who wanted them. Reading on the Road is crucial during a time where libraries, bookstores and schools aren’t otherwise open as an option for kids to find new books to read. Instead of buying them from Amazon, Reading on the Road has plenty of children’s books that have been gently used and need a new home. Any monetary donations they receive go toward buying books at local yard sales or book sales. They also teamed up with Walmart and Home Depot, both of which have donated supplies including containers for the books, boxes, package tape and wrapping paper. CLiF (Children’s Literacy Foundation), based out of New Hampshire and Vermont, also donated a large portion of the books.

The Reading team turned to the Keene Facebook page to promote its home delivery and were met with fantastic results.

“That’s when it totally exploded!” Opsahl said. “We probably had over 100 people ask for deliveries from March to May.”

As of late, Reading partnered up with Feeding Tiny Tummies, a local nonprofit that secures food for kids who don’t otherwise have access to three meals a day due to various reasons. They also just donated over 500 books to the Keene Family YMCA Camp Wakanda for campers to read during the day or to take home to keep. This summer, they’ve managed to donate around 200 books a week to various organizations and residents of the area.

According to Opsahl, they also recently collaborated with the Symonds Garden Friday Food Hub, giving community members an opportunity to take a pre-packaged meal kit to make something yummy and healthy at home and also take a few books with them. Families can head over to the Food Hub to check out the progress of the local garden, help release butterflies, engage with fellow community members while maintaining a safe social distance, and enjoy a unique meal kit with different healthy alternatives each week to eat for lunch or dinner.

This whole experience has been very eye-opening for Opsahl; she said she couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunities presented by her community. Watching this nonprofit grow into what it is today has certainly been one positive to take from these chaotic and uncertain times.

“Reading on the Road has definitely inspired me to get more involved with social work and working with the community,” she said. “I’ve learned that it’s definitely something I want to stick with in the future.”

To discuss book donations or volunteering, and for more information, contact the group on Facebook at facebook.com/Readingontheroad.khs.