Giving thanks around a family dinner over Thanksgiving and listening to her aunt talk about her work at a school in Bogotá, Gabby Johnson was inspired to create a way to give back to the community where her mother’s family has roots.
By Holly Kennedy
Giving thanks around a family dinner over Thanksgiving and listening to her aunt talk about her work at a school in Bogotá, Gabby Johnson was inspired to create a way to give back to the community where her mother’s family has roots. After months of work and coordination with friends and families in Rye and Colombia, this 16 year old raised $1,500 and collected over 800 English picture and language books for Centro Santa Maria elementary school serving 250 low-income children from central Bogotá.
“When I finally got the opportunity to visit the school over spring break, the director explained that the school cannot afford to buy enough English language picture and textbooks,” said Johnson. “I got inspired to help the school, which is affiliated with my mother and aunt’s alma mater, to build a library of English picture books.” Wasting no time, this inspired teen successfully organized and completed a book and fundraising drive in less than eight weeks.
“I learned that parents at Centro Santa Maria put a huge emphasis on elementary school education and learning English because for many of the pre-K through fifth- grade children, Centro Santa Maria will be the only school they attend before having to go to work to help support their families, who are the working poor in central Bogotá,” said Johnson. “When I visited the children and met the director, I learned that the average family earns less than $5,000 a year and pays $1,800 for school tuition,” she said.
“The children are happy and enthusiastic and very motivated to learn,” said Johnson. “It was very exciting to visit them in their classrooms and I got a new nickname while I was there—Miss Nuevo Yorker. They cherish the textbooks that they use, but there is a huge need for more. The money raised will go to buying additional English language textbooks, and also support a birthday club for the children,” she added.
“I am really grateful for all the help from my neighborhood and school friends who generously donated their books and made donations to this effort,” said Johnson, a Rye Country Day School sophomore who lives in Indian Village. She is now considering other ways to help the children learn English, possibly starting a pen pal
Muchas gracias, Gabby.