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High School Students Create a Book to Help Homeless Kids

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Posted: Thursday, December 12, 2019 9:00 am

A lot of high school students spend most of their free time hanging out with friends and just being teenagers. Most teenagers do not pursue philanthropic endeavors. Storey Wertheimer is a 17-year-old senior in high school who is doing things a little differently. Over the past three years, Storey said she has put together a poetry book with her peers and is using the funds to advocate for literacy among homeless children.

Storey, whose parents own a second home in Lake Arrowhead, founded Verses for the Voiceless and is the president of four organizations at her school in Los Angeles. She is president of the Community Service Club, National Honor Society, Speech and Debate Club and Jewish Culture Club. She is also on her school’s varsity track team, has held positions in student government, travels the country with her Speech and Debate club, plays tennis in the United States Tennis Association, snow and water skis, and plays guitar.

The book, “Animals Are out of this World!” is a poetry anthology written, illustrated, and published by Storey and over a dozen of her classmates under the banner of “Verses for the Voiceless.” Storey said there are two main themes in the book, the first being pets and animals and the second being outer space. She also said that each poem has a message in it.

Storey said the idea for the book occurred to her after she joined the speech and debate team in her freshman year of high school.

“I had to find a topic for a persuasive speech,” Storey said.

Storey said she began doing research speech topics and discovered that there are 2.5 million homeless children in the U.S., which is roughly one in thirty kids.

“That was so shocking to me,” Storey said. “I’ve never seen homeless children on the streets, so I didn’t realize this was a problem. I immediately started researching that topic.”

Storey did her research, wrote up the speech and began delivering it at speech and debate tournaments.

“I gave that speech at tournaments all the time,” Storey said.

That was not enough though.

“I realized spreading awareness was good, but I decided I wanted to go a step further,” Storey said.

Storey said she wanted to come up with an idea to go beyond awareness and had wanted to make a book for a while.

“A lot of [homeless] children don’t have a means of becoming literate and I thought a book would be a good way to promote literacy,” Storey added.

So Storey began putting a group together to create the book. She said it took “approximately three years of on/off work” to get all the writing done, have illustrations drawn, format the book and publish it via Amazon.

“It was a long process,” Storey said. “I submitted the book 12 different times to Amazon for publishing.”

Storey said there was a large group involved. Most people who helped wrote a poem or two, but some people wrote as many as 10 poems and there was an illustrator who did as many as a dozen of the drawings.

Once all the poems were written and illustrations complete, Storey said she handled most of the formatting.

“It was very interesting. I had no experience,” Storey said. “I started on a word document and researched the best services to format a book. It was a trial and error process.”

Storey added that they chose to go with self-publishing the book because it made distribution easier.

The book was published in March 2019. Since then, Storey said Century Housing Corporation, which provides affordable housing in LA, funded 500 books for their residents. Storey said Verses for the Voiceless has also sold books to elementary schools at the Scholastic Book Fair and been going to elementary schools and homeless shelters to read to kids.

Storey could have paired with an existing charity or nonprofit, but decided making her own charity was the way to go, so Verses for the Voiceless was born. She said 100% of all proceeds from book sales fund the activities and programs done by Verses for the Voiceless.

“I wanted to focus on literacy programs for homeless youth,” Storey said about her decision to make Verses for the Voiceless. “I found some organizations for this, but they weren’t really catering to the specific things I wanted to do.”

Storey added that she also wanted to be hands-on with everything and work with shelters to meet the needs of each one she works with.

One such shelter, and the first one Verses of the Voiceless has worked with, is the Good Shepherd Shelter. According to their website, Good Shepher “provides a safe, nurturing environment in which mothers and their children can heal, reawaken their dignity and self-confidence, and learn the skills that will help them stop the cycle of domestic violence.”

“We’ve been working with the family services manager there,” Storey said.

Storey said when they worked “very closely” with Good Shepherd to develop a program with three main goals.

The first goal is to hire English tutors to “really help [the kids] excel in an academic setting.” As an extra step for this, she said they hope to “even the playing field a little more” by offering weekly programs.

The second step, Story said, is increasing the children’s access to books. She added that Good Shepherd has a lot of children, “but only a few books on the bookshelf… these kids keep reading the same books over and over.”

To counteract this, Verses for the Voiceless donated a copy of “Animals Are out of this World” to each kid at Good Shepherd.

“They were so excited to have a book of their own,” Storey said.

Additionally, they are taking suggestions from the kids on books they can get for Good Sheperd’s library and the have put together storytime sessions.

The third goal is to provide monthly seminars, the first of which was in November, Storey said. These seminars will focus on the emotional well-being and mental health of the kids. The seminars will involve things like team-building activities, workshops, arts and crafts, and creative and academic writing. Everything will be tailored to the kids and revolve around improving literacy.

Going forward, Storey said she wants to keep expanding this project and start reaching for San Francisco and the mountain communities, but Verses for the Voiceless needs more help with book sales to continue funding these projects. She has reached out to the Mountain Homeless Coalition to discuss the possibility of working with them in the local area.

“I love it so much. It’s my favorite place to be during the summer,” Storey said about Lake Arrowhead.

Though Storey is not sure if books like this will be her future, she said she wants to make a career out of “helping people in need.” However, she said there is another kid’s book in the works, “Too Good to Waste: A Composting Story” which has already been written and illustrated and is currently going through the publication process.

Storey said she’s also launched a second organization, Food for Thought, which is focused on reducing food waste. Part of that involves speaking at the students of different schools on the topic.

To buy a copy of the book and hear about future projects, watch www.versesforthevoiceless.com.

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