CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - Not all spring break vacations are the same. Students from the University of Tampa and Pennsylvania State University are proof. They're spending the week in Cleveland volunteering with nonprofits and learning about various neighborhoods.
The experience is offered by the Cleveland Leadership Center through its (i)Cleveland Service Break.
Noah Oakley is sorting through totes filled with books. He knows the power the words on the pages hold.
"A lot of relationships that I've built with adults, my friends growing up and just my relationship with the world in general has been through the stories I've read," Oakley said.
It's the first time the University of Tampa student has visited Ohio.
"It's definitely interesting seeing how big the city is and how different the culture is," Oakley said. "There's just rows upon rows of houses here which is something that I haven't ever seen before."
Oakley and the group from the University of Tampa spent the afternoon at the Cleveland Kids Book Bank. The organization launched about a year ago following the success of the Little Free Library program.
"Two out of three low-income kids do not own a single book," said Judy Payne, co-founder and executive director of the Cleveland Kids Book Bank.
Payne knew that situation had to change. A call to online bookseller Discover Books led to a partnership. The business donates an endless supply of used books they no longer have use for.
As donations come into the Cleveland Kids Book Bank they're sorted by genre and reading level. The books are then handed off to local agencies that deliver sets of books to deserving families. Payne said thousands of families receive books on a monthly basis to keep.
"The kids get so excited," Payne said. "It's one thing to be told how important it is to read. It's a whole other thing if you're given the books to make it happen."
Last year the nonprofit distributed 410,000 books.
"Helping this is awesome, because I can help in a process that is giving kids these books so that they can have the same experience that I did (as a kid)," Oakley said. "(Allow them to) grow up reading and hopefully realize that they can achieve their dreams."
Sheena Dass, an international student from southern Africa, was also on the trip. Like Oakley, it too was her first time to Cleveland.
"It's a lot of industrial area, and I've never experienced or seen that," Dass said. "I always wanted to explore and compare my experiences I've had in different areas and have more knowledge about what I can do."
She's thankful for the opportunity to learn about the Cleveland Kids Book Bank and give back.
"It's amazing," Dass said. "When I was looking at the books in there, I would see my childhood. I want everyone wherever to enjoy this moment and experience the wonderful stories out there by the authors."
The Cleveland Leadership Center hopes the students will return to Cleveland to intern, volunteer, maybe even to live and work.
Oakley is up to the challenge.
"I'm already thinking about future trips and coming back and volunteering with some of the organizations we've been a part of so far," Oakley said.