Honors Student Starts book drive for low income Chicago residents


Sierra Gray

Ryan Drendel

Faith Scheidemantle

When this spring semester started in January, a group of Southern Honors students gathered for their first Service Learning class. Among these students was Ryan Drendel, a sophomore professional and technical writing major, and an avid reader. In Service Learning, Honors students are challenged to create a project which will benefit the community. The goal of this course is to teach students how to become leaders and take initiative in any given situation.

“It is hard to say what I enjoy most about Service Learning because I love the entire experience, but I think the very best part is getting to know the students,” said Dr. Elaine Freeman, professor of Honors Service Learning. “It is inspiring to see the pride the students take in giving back to the community through each individually designed project.”

While brainstorming for project ideas, Drendel’s thoughts drifted to the Chicago public school stystem. According to Drendel, he was raised in Naperville, a well-off suburb in Chicago; however, he has always been aware of the condition of public schools in the Chicago area.

“The inaccessibility to literature that pervades the low-income areas of the city is particularly disturbing,” said Drendel. “My Service Learning class helped me to acknowledge a need and address it with a project of my own design.”

Drendel decided to name his project Books for a Better Chicago. He kicked off his event by hosting Open Mic to Open Books, an open mic night at Joplin Avenue Coffee Company. Drendel says the mic night was probably his favorite part of his service learning experience. He gained support from members of the Joplin community, including many Southern students, during this event.

Drendel set a goal to collect 250 books during his drive. Over spring break, he was able to deliver 661 books to three Chicago organizations: SCARCE (School and Community Assistance for Recycling and Composting), Chicago Books to Women in Prison, and Bernie’s Book Bank (a Chicago-area non-profit that gives children’s books to kids who do not have any).

“I am thrilled for Ryan’s success and not at all surprised by it because of the planning, preparation, and effort that he invested in his project,” Freeman said. “His leadership and enthusiasm helped make the book drive a team effort and a greater success than even he had envisioned.”

Drendel says he is interested in continuing Books for a Better Chicago. It might take some help from friends, but he wants to continue donating books to the low-income Chicago area. Drendel hopes to exceed his goal of 1,000 books during the next round of Books for a Better Chicago