Books Build Bridges: Ben Sweeney’s Non-Profit Created During COVID-19

Small businesses are starting up all across the United States! In today’s blog post, our leader Deborah’s Sweeney’s son Ben Sweeney shares the story of how he launched Books Build Bridges, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the summer of 2020, I spent a day clearing piles of books out of my bedroom. If this had been any other year, this would have been just your typical afternoon spent doing household chores. However, nothing was ordinary about 2020. I had spent the last year going to my high school classes via Zoom instead of in-person due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Seemingly overnight, my bedroom had become my classroom — and there were books everywhere. Books from my childhood, textbooks from classes, and books for summer reading lists.

I wanted to do something meaningful with all these books. My goal was to collect all the books I was no longer using and donate them to our local Guadalupe Center for underprivileged children learning to read English.

The more I thought about it, the more I started to consider going one step further. I grew up with entrepreneurial parents who are both business owners. Sometimes my mom would take me to work with her and show me the ropes about starting a small business. She taught me that small businesses come in all forms. There are flexible LLCs, corporations that allow for substantial growth, and non-profits, which give a voice to the community that they serve.

Eureka! Why not take these books and start my own non-profit? That was the summer, and the year, I began Books Build Bridges.

About Books Build Bridges

The mission of Books Build Bridges is to help as many people in our communities as possible.

I established the non-profit to collect and distribute books to children in underserved communities. The books are distributed to a variety of charities, including local community churches, foster children’s centers, women’s centers, local schools, and any other spaces where children and adults may be seeking books.

Building a Non-Profit in a Pandemic

It’s challenging to start a non-profit during a pandemic. Originally, I thought we might be able to do a book drive at my high school. I’m also a member of the National League of Young Men and thought we might be able to do a fundraiser there, too.

Unfortunately, these plans were not possible due to COVID-19. With in-person events on pause, I needed to get creative about my non-profit’s reach. Where else could I find people that truly needed books?

Pairing Books with Lunches

During the pandemic, my brother Chris and I made lunches for a local charity called the Hollywood Food Coalition. Every Sunday, we delivered lunches to a home in a neighboring city that helped deliver the meals to the homeless. Our lunches were accompanied by words of hope: inspiring messages that shared encouragement.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that maybe some of our books could accompany the lunch donations. A meal and a great read.

Books Build Bridges Grows to 10,000 Books!

I put out a call through my local high school newsletters and charities. They were on board with my non-profit! Within a few weekends, we had thousands of books at our house. Over 10,000 books, actually. They filled up almost all of our garage!

My family and I started delivering the books to the Guadalupe Center, fulfilling the first goal I had for starting the charity. Since the Guadalupe Center could only accept one thousand books, I started contacting distribution channels suggested by people who read our high school newsletters. I reached out to the Catholic Charities of America, Wise Readers to Leaders, the Foster Children’s Resource Center, and women’s shelters.

Each place I spoke to had different book needs, an essential lesson I was able to learn in building my non-profit. Some places only needed youth and adult books while others needed textbooks. It was important to know the requirements for each place because books cannot be dumped off just anywhere or donated at random. We needed to know what each organization needs in this moment.

From there, I enlisted 10 of my best mask-wearing friends to come over. We sorted through all 10,000 books to make sure the right books were heading the right places. As a team, we carefully organized and coordinated the books and worked together for hours to make sure everything was heading in the right place

Working alongside my friends also gave me perspective. We would see books we recognized in the piles and talk about how much we enjoyed reading them. Imagine the impact that these books can have on the lives of countless others! The conversations they may start up between family members or friends are priceless — and I’m really happy my humble non-profit can be part of these stories.

How Can I Help Books Build Bridges?

Books Build Bridges is made possible by donations and support from readers like you! You can visit us at BooksBuildBridges.com to learn more about our monthly donor and volunteer opportunities.

We’re still pretty new, so visit our website often to stay connected with us and learn about our upcoming fundraising and volunteer activities!

Start a non-profit with MyCorporation! Contact us at mycorporation.com or call us at 877-692-6772.

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