Emily Bicknese, 18, of Elgin, Iowa, is linking elderly readers with orphaned children around the world with her "Grandma, Will You Read to Me?" program.
After volunteering at a nursing home, Bicknese found that the elderly residents were frustrated with feeling like they were no longer needed: one of the residents told her "she was sad she couldn't give back to the world," Bicknese told the Gazette.
So Bicknese created a program in which nursing-home residents are recorded reading children's books aloud, and then those books, paired with the edited recordings, are sent to orphanages around the world.
Last summer, she sent more than 60 books and CDs to orphanages in Nigeria, Myanmar, India and Kenya.
"One of my favourite memories as a child was being read to by my grandparents," Bicknese said. "With this project, the adults were able to experience gratification from helping a child overseas and the children received something personal created just for them."
This summer, she was honoured for her work with the program.
Bicknese was named one of the winners of the Kohl's Cares Scholarship Program, receiving a $1,000 scholarship for "Grandma, Will You Read to Me?" She won another $1,000 scholarship from the Herbert Hoover Uncommon Student Award.
Her program has inspired others, too. Bicknese's home-school group has started recording books for single moms in their community.
"It touches me to the point to tears to know she has such a heart for the elderly and the orphans," said Bicknese's mother, Karla.
"I look at it like two bookends, two different life spans on two different sides of the world, and this project brought them together, with the books in the middle," Bicknese's father, Aaron, told the Gazette.
Bicknese plans to study music education at the University of Northern Iowa this fall.