Providing books on important topics a rewarding project for Sarartoga Springs High School senior

Two women hold up books

Riley Hite, left, at a Little Free Library outside Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs with the cafe’s executive director, Sarah Craig.

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Being engaged with your community is very important, but the opportunity to actively change things within it is rare.

While it’s common for adolescents to seek out volunteer opportunities within their areas, it’s not so common that a program allows for these adolescents to seek out, plan and execute their own service projects.

However, this is exactly what the non-profit organization Youth Squared does.

Youth Squared is a nonprofit under the care of the Community Foundation for the Greater Capital Region that encourages youth of the region to actively work to make a change. The group operates on an advisory council, composed of adults and adolescents across the Saratoga region. This council plans and sponsors community projects that address different issues across the world.

Through monthly pop-ups, grant writing, and general advocacy, Youth Squared has had a great impact on the Capital Region and beyond.

I joined the council in 2021. My older siblings had been involved when they were in high school and constantly raved about the program and the immense feeling of bliss they felt while being able to actively engage with their community. When I became old enough to join, I did so without a second thought.

I have worked on projects such as cereal and blanket drives, walks to help Ukraine, environmental newsletters and written grants for several different business and associations.

While all of these have had a major impact on my life, and my developing love for community service, one event has been the most significant.

This was a book drive that I came up with the idea for and led. The drive “Books for a Better World” was held back in October and was an overwhelming success.

My inspiration for this event was drawn from my belief in the impact of literature on young minds. Books have always been an escape for me, a place where I can seek sanctuary and adventure. Literature had such a big impact on my life growing up, that I wanted to ensure that everyone could have the same opportunity despite any economic or social disparity.

In the beginning stages of my project, I researched what available resources my city already had. I live in Saratoga Springs and walking around town I noticed a plethora of Little Free Libraries. These libraries are scattered around town and hold dozens of books available to anyone, any time. They are a great resource for people craving literature but lacking a library card or the ability to purchase books of their own.

However, they rely on outside resources to supply them and are always looking for donations. This motivated me to make an effort to support the libraries, and the availability of books to all.

But I still wanted to do something unique, and that promoted advocacy. So, I reached out to SEEN, The Saratoga Education Equity Network. They have three Little Free Libraries of their own and are committed to educating the public about diversity and equality. They inspired my drive to focus on important issues and advocacy.

I sought out books that covered topics such as environmental actions, equality, diversity, and other key issues. Additionally, I asked for banned books that have been censored in classrooms and libraries across the nation.

I wanted to increase availability of books in my community, while educating and working toward a greater cause.

After much meticulous planning and promotion — and even being interviewed by a local news station — the day finally came.

I collected over 200 books, rich in heartfelt and important topics. They were then sent out to three different locations: The SEEN Little Free Libraries, The Caffé Lena Little Free Library and at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Saratoga Springs.

Since then, many children across the community have been able to access the books and learn about important and captivating topics. I have received overwhelming gratitude from the community and organizations that received my books, and hope that I’ve made a sliver of change in the resource availability of my community.

I recommend Youth Squared to any aspirational adolescent that desires to make an impact on their community. It has been a truly inspiring group, and an experience that I will never forget.

For more information on the group, visit

Riley Hite is a senior at Saratoga Springs High School.

Categories: Life and Arts, Saratoga Springs

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