Dedicated Friends of the New Orleans Public Library volunteer, Nikki Leali, a student at Ursuline Academy, has been recognized this month by Prudential with the prestigious Prudential Spirit of Community Award. As as volunteer for Friends, Nikki assists at our Palmer Park Arts Market Book Sale and can often be found in the Carriage House at Latter Library restocking the children’s section.
She was selected by Prudential as a Louisiana State honoree this year because of her work developing a youth reading club and an annual book drive. Nikki’s reading club brings middle level students together with younger children once a month to read and work on craft projects. Her annual book donation and swap drive has redistributed more than 55,000 books in the community.
When Nikki was only six, she won a small city grant to host a neighborhood book exchange in conjunction with the national Little Free Library initiative. Each year, she continued to collect and give away books to encourage reading and literacy, and she eventually became a volunteer for Friends. While volunteering one Saturday in 2017, Nikki came up with the idea of starting a reading club to “provide opportunities for younger children to feel confident reading in a safe and fun environment,” she explained, “and to encourage middle school students to serve their community.”
Nikki recruited fellow middle schoolers to join her club, and invited kids from ages 2 to 9 to come to monthly gatherings through social media. At first, she held meetings of her “Crescent City Reading Buddies” club at places like pet stores and coffee shops, but then found a regular home at the Rosa Keller library branch in Broadmoor. Each meeting features a different theme and a hands-on craft project, in addition to reading time. Attendance was meager at first, but now that Nikki has created a website and provides incentives from corporate sponsors, between 15 and 30 children are regularly attending club meetings. She hopes to eventually hold club meetings at additional library branches around the city.
As part of her prestigious award, Nikki will receive a beautifully engraved silver medallion, an award of $1,000, and an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C., in May for several days of recognition events. The medallion will be presented in New Orleans by a Prudential representative; the $1,000 award is presented in Washington, D.C.