Naperville teen gathers books to benefit flood victims

Whether reading in the hammock with her mom as a child or delving into Hemingway on a teacher's suggestion as a teen, Jane Boettcher can't imagine life without books.

But after heavy floods this August in Louisiana, people there can. It's their reality.

Jane, a Naperville North High School senior, said she was saddened to hear the flooding closed libraries, the waters drenched reading material and schools were in need. She soon stepped in to help.

The founder of a student-led tutoring nonprofit called The Merry Tutor, Jane has been leading a book drive for six weeks, collecting roughly 10,000 books of all stripes to send to Livingston Parish Public Schools in southern Louisiana, near Baton Rouge.

With a collection point at the Alive Center in Naperville, Jane and her fellow Merry Tutor board members made it easy for teens to drop off their used books at a place where many of them already hang out. And with people skills uncommon in a high school student, adults who know Jane say she's made the book drive a community effort, too.

Books have come from seven libraries in Naperville, Aurora and Bolingbrook, and from five school districts in those three communities as well. There's fiction and nonfiction, even textbooks for students whose resources were waterlogged or wiped away.

When Jane first told her father, Michael Boettcher, about the project, he thought they'd be able to drop a box of castoff books in the mail and know a good deed was accomplished.

Then she worked the connections she's built since launching The Merry Tutor three years ago. She got Merry Tutor board member Emily Whirledge, a Naperville Central High School senior, on social media, working Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to solicit more donations.

"We're just very connected with books and with students who would have access to those books," Emily said.

What Emily calls "typical teen fiction" started pouring in. Copies of "Harry Potter" novels. Of nonfiction like "Not A Game," a biography of Allen Iverson. Of Shakespeare plays.

Soon Kandice Henning, founder of the Alive Center, was noticing a bigger and bigger pile of books every two or three days.

Then Jane called Sourcebooks, a Naperville-based publishing company, and got another donation. One of her seventh- and eighth-grade teachers, Katherine Barr at Kennedy Junior High, said where many teens would have been unsure, navigating grown-up systems of businesses, school districts, libraries and community centers, Jane was confident.

"Jane is very self-sufficient. Dedicated, diligent - that's who Jane is," Barr said. "She is someone who is very determined and isn't afraid of obstacles at all."

As the books came in and piled up in the Boettchers' garage - to the tune of far more than 17 full boxes - transportation became an obstacle. The books won't all fit in any of the Boettchers' cars, so the second idea of Jane and her father driving down to deliver the books together went out the window.

Renting a truck would have been pricey, but a possibility. But Jane's connections helped another idea come through: Mark Lopata from ML International and Hassett Air Express in Oakbrook Terrace transported the books this week for free.

It's another instance of Jane's creative thinking and networking pulling through, her father says.

"She works really well with people. She is somebody who has a lot of ideas about how to solve things," he said. "She thinks outside the box."

But the box right now is full of books, just how Jane likes it.

"I've always loved reading," she said. "Books have always been a huge part of how I learn."

The box of future possibilities for his eldest child, a natural leader among her three younger siblings and several nearby cousins, is wide open, Boettcher says. She's working on college applications to the University of Chicago, University of Michigan, Stanford University and Princeton University, and she knows books and words will remain important in her future.

"I have a strong interest in linguistics," Jane said. "I want to learn about how language shapes culture."

  Boxes holding some of the roughly 10,000 books en route to Friends of Livingston Parish Public Schools in Louisiana from students in Naperville contain fiction, nonfiction, popular titles and classics. Paul Michna/
Jane Boettcher, a Naperville North High School senior and founder of The Merry Tutor student-led tutoring group, has organized a book drive to benefit Livingston Parish Public Schools in flood-ravaged Louisiana. Courtesy of Jane Boettcher
  A collection bin at the Alive Center, where many Naperville teens hang out after school during NaperBridge drop-in hours, helped gather roughly 10,000 books to send to flood-ravaged Louisiana. Paul Michna/
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