Palmer Trinity senior collects thousands of books to give to Miami-Dade children

Waste of any kind bothers Palmer Trinity School senior Shaunak Mishra, 16. Four years ago when he saw classmates cleaning out their lockers at the end of the year and throwing away their books, he decided to do something.

Influenced by his older sister, Shreeya, he collected the discarded textbooks and general-interest books to try to give them a second life.

Shaunak, who goes by Shaun, connected with the Little Lighthouse Foundation and helped fill bookshelves at the Family Resource Center at the Chapman Partnership for the Homeless. Shreeya helped him learn how to grow the initiative.

The class textbooks were sold through Amazon and the money was used to sponsor holiday gift drives and other events for Children’s Home Society kids living in group homes in Southwest Miami Dade County.

When Shreeya graduated high school and went on to the University of Miami, Shaun happily took on the book-collecting leadership role. He decided to gather even more books and get them into the hands of children.

He learned about Read to Learn Books for Free through a Miami Herald article three years ago. The Miami Book Fair in a partnership with The Children’s Trust sponsors the literacy initiative.

And now he has three separate book drives going at Somerset Prep, Leewood K-8 Center, and Palmer Trinity. He has collected more than 5,000 new and gently used children’s books for Read to Learn Books for Free.

“What Shaun is doing for other children in our community is just so amazing,” Marci Cancio-Bello, coordinator for Read to Learn Books for Free, said in a release. “We distribute 5,000 books a week to stock our 40 bookshelves found around town. These are books we provide for free to children to take home. We are so grateful for the support of The Children’s Trust, Miami Book Fair and community members like Shaun, because it is only together that we can meet the incredible demand, a demand that continues to grow, for children’s books in our community.”

Read to Learn Books for Free works on two levels. First, young children are able to pick free books from bookshelves at locations around the county. And second, everyone in our community can donate their new and used children’s books to fill the bookshelves all over town. They can be found at juvenile court waiting rooms to community service offices, pediatrics clinics to parks and community centers.

Shaun is not doing this all alone. As president of school clubs Hoop Dreams and Light the Way, he has added the initiative into the schedule of club-sponsored community service activities. And he has inspired over half his class, more than 50 fellow schoolmates, to collect books as well. Junior members of the Light the Way club have adopted Shaun’s book drive initiative and will continue it after he graduates in 2018.

Collecting books is not Shaun’s only passion. He also plays varsity basketball for his school, and he plays the percussion instrument tabla, a South Asian membranophone percussion instrument.

He has performed at Palmer Trinity’s International Festivals for four years, and he served as the school’s representative at Student Diversity Council in Atlanta. He was vice president/student government last year. These are only his recent leadership achievements.

Interested in medicine, Shaun is currently an intern at the HHMI (Howard Hughes Medical Institute) program at the University of Miami studying the correlation between body flexibility and posture. At Baptist Hospital of Miami, he shadowed neurosurgeon Vitaly Siomin to observe brain surgeries and he learned about interventional cardiology from Ripal Gandhi.

Shaun has been collecting books for Read to Learn Books for Free practically since the beginning of the program. This year, he plans to gather even more to change the statistic that only 1 in 300 children own a book at home.

You can help too. Visit www.miamibookfair.com/readtolearn/ to find a book donation bin near you or start your own collection drive.

‘Driving for a Cause’

It was a win-win experience Aug. 12 when car enthusiasts, racing fans and casual South Florida drivers visited Homestead-Miami Speedway to help out special causes in our community — youth development charities and our local food bank Farm Share.

The “Give Back at the Track” annual event allows everyone the opportunity to drive their vehicles around the same 1.5-mile oval that hosts NASCAR’s championship races each November, along with racing down the Speedway’s 1/8-mile drag strip on pit road.

Donations collected for each lap benefit Homestead-Miami Speedway’s charitable outreach program “Driving for a Cause.” Since 2013, the funds raised have been awarded through grants to several youth and education organizations. Last year, more than $40,000 in grants was donated to six local charities for youth development and nonprofit efforts.

“Give Back at the Track is about bringing together the South Florida community for a full day of fun and excitement,” Homestead-Miami Speedway President Matthew Becherer said in a release. “In our 22 years of being a part of this community, we have been able to serve and give back through a number of charitable endeavors. The turnout today was tremendous and that is a true testament to the passion that the people of South Florida have for racing and helping philanthropic efforts.”

In addition to driving on the track, participants also brought donations for Farm Share. The food items collected will be distributed to those in need.

“It’s great to see so many people from around the community wanting to be a part of this event,” Farm Share Operation Manager John Delgado said in a release. “A lot of the food that we collected today will go to those that need it the most in the city of Homestead.”

Poets and poetry lovers

Every fourth Saturday there is a free open-poetry reading session at the Sunny Isles Beach Branch Library. The public is invited to attend the next one 4 to 5 p.m., Saturday 18070 Collins Ave. in the first- floor meeting room.

The reading event is open to all ages and attendees can bring their own work or share a treasured poem written by another poet. Many visitors attend simply to listen and enjoy the beauty of poetry. To learn more, visit https://bit.ly/2vM1546.