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ND student meets Bush through book drive

Vilim, Laura | Thursday, January 15, 2004

Notre Dame freshman Nina Pressly never imagined that a project she began five years ago to distribute books to schools in Palm Beach, Fla. would one day lead to meeting President Bush.Pressly first considered donating her books at the age of 14 as she was cleaning childhood books out of her room. After contacting the volunteer coordinator for the Palm Beach County School District, Pressly decided to give her books to local elementary schools. Eventually, Pressly’s idea turned into a project fulfilling the 100-hour community service requirement for her high school, enticing other students to participate, as well. “I enjoyed the fact that I was actually helping people,” she said.As Pressly broadened the scope of her project to include more schools, the demand for book donations became increasingly hard to meet. She exhausted the book collections of her friends, neighbors and relatives, and had to find other sources of supply. Pressly wrote letters to book publishers asking them to send her books to give to school children, the majority of whom came from low-income households. Publishers Scholastic, Random House, Simon and Schuster, Rigby, and Charlesbridge responded to Pressly’s request by delivering numerous shipments of brand-new books to her home. “I didn’t think that I was going to get much of a response [from publishers], but then every day I would come home from school and there were two or three boxes [of books] from them,” she said.With the help of publishers, family and friends, Pressly has already donated over 10,000 books to children. The amount of energy and time Pressly devoted to her project led to her receiving the Point of Light Award in 2002 from Florida Governor Jeb Bush.It was this contact with the governor that initially gave Pressly a chance to meet the President. Knowing that Laura Bush is an advocate of literacy programs, an official from Governor Bush’s office contacted Pressly to ask if she would be interested in greeting the President upon his Jan. 9 arrival in Palm Beach County for an election campaign fundraiser. Pressly joined government officials from Florida, including state senators and representatives in welcoming President Bush.”It was a little intimidating at first, but they were really nice people and very funny,” she said.Pressly said that she never expected such an honor to come with the program she began. She was enthusiastic to meet the president, even though her time with him was short. “It was surreal,” Pressly said of the experience. Pressly hopes to start a similar program at Notre Dame and has already contacted people at the Center for Social Concerns. As for the project she began in her hometown, it was taken over by a group of high school sophomores who hope to build upon Pressly’s work.