Donating thousands of books for children to read has earned Christopher Karle of Ridgefield a Congressional Award Gold Medal.

“Reading is a life skill,” said Karle. “... Children need books in their homes to acquire necessary reading skills, especially during COVID-19 when they might not have access to school libraries.

“When I donate books to children,” he said, “I am hopeful that I am making a difference in their lives.”

Karle, son of Maureen and John Karle of Schoolhouse Place, collected 5,605 books and organized a series of free book fairs to distribute them to kids in need during 2019 and 2020.

A junior at Immaculate High School in Danbury, Karle started a charity he called Turning Pages to recycle the books.

“I was inspired to begin Turning Pages when I learned that many children do not have reliable access to books,” he said.

“Research indicates that the single most significant predictor of academic success is books in the home. Children without books in their homes have an unfair obstacle preventing them from learning.

“Turning Pages provides children with books to take home, read, and add to their home libraries to improve their literacy,” Karle said.

“Turning Pages and I collected books from family and friends, sorted them into reading levels and counted them. I worked with schools and community centers to organize free book fairs.”

Differing levels

The children who received the books ranged from pre-kindergartners to eighth graders.

“I helped children select books at their reading levels. Interacting with the children at the book fairs is very meaningful to me,” Karle said. “I enjoy introducing children to authors and books I enjoyed reading at their age.

“Seeing the excitement on the children’s face when they learn they can select three books to take home to add to their libraries is a great feeling,” he said.

“Without books at home, without strong literacy skills, children will be at a disadvantage. With each book a child receives from Turning Pages, I feel I am supporting their education.”

Through the Turning Pages free book fairs, Karle helped donate:

 500 books at St. Martin de Porres Academy in New Haven at a book fair on June 14, 2019;

 560 books through the Carver Center in Port Chester, N.Y., on July 30, 2019;

 200 books donated through the Sacred Heart Summer Outreach Program Feb. 8, 2020;

 1,800 books donated through the Carver Center in Port Chester, N.Y., on Aug. 19, 2020.

Karle also worked with Immaculate High School, donating books directly to community groups that handled the redistribution to children.

“During COVID-19, Turning Pages and I were not allowed to interact with students. I still felt it was necessary to get books to students,” he said.

“I contacted places like New Haven Reads who could deliver books at school meal distribution sites between March and June 2020,” he said. “Also, St. Martin de Porres Academy turned a bus into a mobile book delivery service. Turning Pages and I donated books to their mobile bus.”

Karle tallied up the books recycled through those efforts:

 480 books donated to St. Peter’s Parish Religious Education Program in Bridgeport on March 14, 2020;

 650 books donated to New Haven Reads in New Haven on June 10, 2020;

 300 books donated to St. Martin de Porres in New Haven on July 2, 2020;

 465 books donated to Jericho Partnership in Danbury, July 7, 2020;

 300 books donated to Abbott House in Irvington, NY, on Aug. 6, 2020.

Fitness

In addition to recognizing community service, the Congressional Award Gold Medal program — which honored 478 young people across the country, including Karle — has a personal development and physical fitness aspect. Each Gold Medalist accumulated over 800 hours over the span of at least two years in the program areas of voluntary public service, personal development, and physical fitness.

“To earn the Congressional Gold Award, I spent 200 hours over 24 months pursuing my personal development and physical fitness goals,” Karle said.

“For personal development I learned about technology, volunteered after school to troubleshoot technology issues and built my own computer,” he said. “These efforts also allowed me to earn the Congressional STEM Star.

“For physical fitness, I worked on improving my strength/conditioning and speed through weight training and agility work.”

He added, “The significant value of earning the congressional award is setting goals in multiple areas of one’s life; personal development, physical fitness, public service and exploration.

“Once goals are identified, one must define how one will achieve those goals. Working with an advisor through these efforts has taught me the importance of mentors.”

Members of the United States Congress honored the 478 Congressional Award Gold Medal recipients on Saturday Sept. 26, in the program’s first-ever entirely virtual Gold Medal Ceremony.

The Congressional Award Gold Medal is described as “the most prestigious award Congress bestows upon a youth civilian.”