by Terry Rogers
Milford sisters Zaria and Hailey Willard believe that reading is extremely important and when they learned that not every child has parents who read to them, they went to their mother, Victoria, and asked if they could start reading to other kids on Facebook Live. Their mother agreed that it was a good idea and helped them create the account to start the process. The girls currently have over 12,000 followers on Facebook and more than 6,000 on Instagram.
“We started by reading books about people who look like us because that is what we liked to read,” Zaria said. “We began just reading the books we had on hand but we quickly ran out of them so we started going to the library and getting books to read. My mom has been reading to us since we were little and when we found out that so many kids didn’t have that, we knew we wanted to do something to change that.”
As the girls developed their following, friends who live in Ghana reached out to them, letting the sisters know that the Deacons Academy Montessori did not have any books for its library so children attending there had difficulty reading. Since they had begun gaining so much attention for reading on social media, Zaria and Hailey wanted to do something to help. They began asking people to donate books that they could then deliver to the school in Ghana to help them start a library. This project gained national attention, leading to the girls being featured on “Good Morning America,” “HLN,” “Access Hollywood,” and even the “Rachel Ray Show.”
“I had to tell the girls who Rachel Ray was,” Victoria said. “They had no idea. We were interviewed for the “Ellen” show but have not heard more about that. They kind of knew who Ellen Degeneres was but I still had to explain. They have no idea that what they are doing is so great. They aren’t really sure why they are getting all this attention. For them, this is just something they had to do.”
Not only are the girls planning to donate the books to the school in Ghana, they want to deliver them personally. They had originally planned to travel to Ghana in December but it was proving too difficult financially for the family as Victoria would need to arrange for childcare for her children, take the time from work as well as cover the expensive costs of flights and lodging in Ghana. Rachel Ray presented the girls with a check for $5,000 from Browseabout Books which Victoria says has helped over the cost of passports and other things to prepare. They are currently planning on traveling to Africa in March 2020.
“We have collected 6,000 books so far,” Hailey said. “That’s a lot of books and I am really looking forward to traveling to Africa to take them to the school and help them build a library.” Currently, the books are stacked in the family living room and Victoria is sending them in separate shipments when she can afford to do so.
Victoria, who has five children, including a set of twins, says she has always been an avid reader and has tried to instill her own love of reading in her children. She laughed that when she was young she would read the back of cereal boxes if that was all she had at the time. From the time her children were born, Victoria said she read to them. She currently tries to manage the girls while working full time and handle the many responsibilities of running a household with five children.
In addition to reading on social media and collecting books to start a library in Ghana, the Willard sisters have written a book about a blended military family. It is currently being edited and they had hoped to have it released before Christmas but it may now be in January. They hope to use the proceeds of their first book as well as several more they plan to write in a series on the subject, to cover the cost of their travel to Ghana. When they travel there, they are also taking travel bags and t-shirts created by an aunt so that the children at the school know they are loved. Victoria explained that the girls are also reaching out to local shelters and schools to collect books for them in order to provide reading materials in their community.
Zaria enjoys going out and meeting new people, stating that visiting New York was exciting. She said it was a little scary at first but she now is comfortable with it.
“My favorite part is reading to the kids,” Hailey said. “I want to encourage them to read. If their parents don’t read to them or if the parents just don’t read at all, then the kids won’t read and that leads to an entire family that doesn’t read.”
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