“Education is not
preparation for life;
education is life itself.”

— John Dewey

Shivani, the founder of Small Words Impact, has been volunteering to support kids in foster care since she was 8 years old. She began with annual drives for backpacks, school supplies, hygiene kits, and Christmas gifts. Her focus has now expanded to improving literacy for kids in foster care 5-11 years old.

The academic gap that starts with early literacy challenges increases over time. After speaking with former foster youth, organizations that provide support services, and looking at research, she discovered that intervening between the ages of 5-11 can be very helpful. Once kids fall behind, then they fall into a cycle of failure. Not only does reading offer a gateway to success in other academic areas, but it can also provide emotional support.

With close to 50% of the kids in foster care between the ages of 6-15, she decided to focus on this group. Help and encouragement for Small Words Impact has come in many ways—financial support from the Hershey’s foundation, and Global Youth H.E.L.P, book donations from schools and youth groups, and direction from foster care organizations, and her core team of friends and advisors.

Small Words Impact decided to focus on improving literacy using a two-pronged approach. First by providing books of their own to the kids, as they may not be able to visit a library. In the second half of 2022, Shivani collected over 1300 books to create “reading kits” for 5–11-year-old kids and included notebooks, school supplies, and stress toys for distribution through foster care organizations in Massachusetts.

Since reading to kids, known as paired reading, has been known to raise reading levels, she wanted to simulate a paired reading experience since foster kids may not be read to consistently as they move homes, or schools, and caregivers may not be able to. Since the kids have uneven access to the internet, she and her team recorded books on a rechargeable device with their paper versions and this project is being piloted over the December 2022 holidays with the support of Hopewell.

Shivani and her team hope that the Small Words Impact project can help tackle some of the challenges foster care kids in improving literacy, help create better lives for them, and that books can provide comfort and help deal with feelings of loss and dislocation. With the help of organizations, and her team, they plan to distribute another 5000 books in the coming months.