A.J. Persinger
Family member A.J. Persinger, 13, decided to organize a book drive for African children after seeing a television show focused on poverty in Africa.

VICENZA, Italy -- Literacy in Africa is not what your average 13-year old is focused on, but for family member A.J. Persinger, helping children on another continent away has become a mission.

The U.S. Army Garrison Vicenza Middle School eighth-grader is organizing "Operation Book Swap" and is asking the community to look through their bookshelves and boxes to find books to send to children in Africa.

The idea started after A.J. watched a television program featuring education and availability of reading materials for children in Africa. The idea might have been influenced by his father's duty assignment as well, A.J. said. His father, Sgt. 1st Class William Persinger, is the noncommissioned officer in charge of the U.S. Army Africa Secretary General Staff, and has enlisted, along with his wife, as a volunteer for the book drive.

"He is starting the project by donating 73 of his own books," said William. "A.J. is a Boy Scout, a member of the Middle School Student Council and volunteers three hours a week at the relocation office in Army Community Service. We're quite proud of him."

A.J., who has participated in a lot of community service projects, has never led one himself but was inspired by attending the Junior Leadership Seminar (JLS) in February in Germany. The conference teaches teens how to be better leaders, A.J. said.

Only one student per grade at Italy's Caserma Ederle was selected. Students interested in the program had to submit an application and letters of recommendation and answer questions about leadership in front of a panel of teachers.

"JLS is a DoDDS(Department of Defense School)-Europe sponsored six-day event for seventh and eighth grade students," said Teresa Taylor, the VMS program sponsor.

The program is intended to foster students' leadership strengths and skills, she said. The application deadline for 2011 has passed, but this year four students from Vicenza will be selected instead of two.

JLS-grad A.J. has his hands full as he continues trying to work out the delivery of boxes of books to Africa. The details are still being worked out as to where exactly the books will go, but A.J. already has one contact in Ghana.

"I like books and seeing the kids not having anything, I thought it wasn't fair," A.J. said. "At our school, we have books and art supplies and a nice building, but a lot of them don't have that."

A.J's mother, Nitza Persinger, recalls watching the TV program that inspired the idea with her son and discussing it with him afterwards.

She said, "It's amazing, the amount of things we have. We're very lucky. On the show, the kids were so eager just to get their hands on a piece of paper. One little girl had her walls just covered with newspaper sheets because she wanted to read - it was really moving. He wanted to help other kids have what he has."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16