New Reading Corner at International Institute

Miller South Alum Contributes
Posted on 01/04/2019
Image of IIA Reading Corner(Michele DeShon for Side Leader)

Girl Scout Abigail Richardson, of Troop 29957, earned her Gold Star — the highest award in Girl Scouts — by creating a reading corner at the International Institute of Akron (IIA) for immigrants.

West Akron resident Richardson, a Scout since kindergarten and senior at Western Reserve Academy, said the issue of literacy is important to her. As a child, Richardson said she read more than her peers and loved books so much she befriended librarians.

Richardson partnered with IIA to create the reading corner in the agency’s lobby so immigrant families seeking services at IIA could become more familiar with the English language.

“This new space now nurtures a friendly atmosphere while cultivating literacy and learning. … It is my hope to share the need for print material in all areas of our community, and the IIA has been most welcoming to be a recipient of my Gold Award project,” said Richardson, 17. “My project is designed to promote early literacy by providing access to books for adults and children.”

Richardson said planning for her project, called the Refugee Literacy Initiative, began about two years ago. She said after driving past IIA, she became interested in its mission and she reached out with her project. The Scout said she asked for book donations via social media and gathered more than 3,000 books for the agency.

Richardson said when she reached out to the organization, IIA representatives indicated they did not have the resources to create a reading corner, so she took the lead. She said she learned immigrants being served by IIA spend much of their first 90 days in the country in classes for English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), citizenship, translation and interpretation services, job readiness training, free GEDs and more. According to agency officials, IIA offers low-cost legal services and fee-based interpretation and translation services.

IIA Advocacy and Community Outreach Coordinator Marisa Sorboro said that in 2017, IIA served approximately 11,000 individuals and helped resettle about 336 people.

“Abigail’s project has made our office a more welcoming, interactive space that encourages learning for all ages,” Sorboro said.

The reading corner is a permanent fixture in the lobby of IIA and was debuted during the opening of IIA’s new location Oct. 22. The nonprofit agency moved from 207 E. Tallmadge Ave. to the Summa Health System St. Thomas Campus at 20 Olive St., Suite 201, in the North Hill area of Akron.

Richardson’s Gold Award project was based on her Silver Award project that she completed while she was an eighth-grader at Akron Public Schools’ Miller South School for the Visual & Performing Arts. For this project, she collected books for Project RISE, which helps students experiencing homelessness.

For a Gold Award project, a Girl Scout creates and implements a project that will have a long-lasting positive impact on the community, according to Richardson said less than 3 percent of eligible Scouts earn this award.

For her project, families are able to take books as they wish, said Richardson, who partnered with Children and Books, a division of the LeniBug Foundation in Akron, to restock the shelves with books collected. She said books are available for all reading levels. Richardson said Step2 Co. LLC donated a children’s table set. The space also includes puppets and a puppet theater.

After graduating high school, Richardson plans to attend medical school and continue her passion for helping others, she said.

For more about IIA, visit

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