I met Sara Sigal prior to her involvement in WIT, but really had the chance to get to know her as she worked on building out her Booklings organization through WIT. I've
watched her navigate multiple pivots, seen firsthand the setbacks and frustrations, and recently joined her in celebrating the latest pivot to Booklings Book Baskets.
Whether you're a teen or someone starting out on your own entrepreneurial adventure, I know you'll find inspiration from my recent conversation with Sara.
Can you share with us why you decided to start Booklings?
At the height of the pandemic I saw firsthand the struggles elementary school students were having with school closures and learning over Zoom. My younger sister was in first grade and was frustrated with online school. It made me incredibly sad to see her struggle and to know that so many children were struggling, specifically with reading, and I started to think of ways I could help. At the same time, I also realized that many of my friends were looking for meaningful activities while confined at home. So, I recruited high school students
throughout California to provide free reading support with virtual one-on-one lessons reading books with kids. I advertised the program online. I could never have imagined how successful Booklings would be. We were working with children all over the country and even a student in Korea. The kids absolutely loved reading with the high schoolers.
Have you experienced setbacks along the way? How did you handle them?
Yes, I hit some setbacks and had to pivot the program a few times. When the country opened back up and people started traveling more, it was difficult for the program. I had less tutors available and needed to recruit new ones. Also, the current students that we were working with at the time, no longer needed the reading support since we were able to raise them to grade level reading. That meant I needed to advertise again for more students. I also realized that not everyone had access to computers, reliable internet connections or books. So, I incorporated in-person reading tutoring lessons and book drives into the program.
Is it hard juggling school, Booklings, and life as a teen? How do you manage it all?
Yes, it’s incredibly difficult to manage everything with all my activities. I play varsity field hockey, perform in theater, varsity mock trial, play the harp, and many other clubs at school. I also take a heavy academic course load, and I want to spend time with my friends and my family. This is outside of the work I do with Booklings. Somehow, I find ways to balance everything and try to stay organized. I do find it helpful to make to-do lists and write down what I am planning to get done in the day. That way, I make sure to set aside time for each designated activity.
Was there a moment when you thought, “Wow … I’m actually making a difference?”
Yes, I realized we were making a difference when parents started emailing me asking to have their kids join the program that they had learned about through word of mouth. I had to start a wait list and recruit more tutors. Parents were also emailing me about how much their kids were enjoying the lessons and learning from them. They also said that their kids were now reaching for books on their own. Also, seeing organizations enjoy the Booklings Book Baskets really feels good.
What do you want to say to a teen who’s thinking - I’m too young and too busy to start an organization?
I think it’s more a matter of willpower and what you set your mind to. I don’t believe age is that important in what people are capable of doing, and in terms of a busy schedule, I think that if you make it a priority, you’ll get it done even if it means sacrificing time to do other things.
Have you made any impactful partnerships along the way?
This past summer, I added book drives and in-person tutoring to the program and inthe process made some impactful relationships. I partnered with Diesel, the local independent bookstore in my neighborhood. It has truly been a wonderful and a supportive partnership. I appreciate their assistance and their continuing to work with me on multiple book drives. Their willingness to keep a book donation bin on their checkout counter and provide a discount to anyone purchasing a book to donate to Booklings. They also sell bookmarks made by local school children with all the proceeds going to purchase new books for Booklings. I would not be able to donate as many books without their support.
I have also created meaningful connections with the managers at the Pacific Southwest Development Corporation, and the founders of Movement BE and Your Safe Place. I have been working closely with them to fill the bookshelves in their community centers with hundreds of new books.
Also, we have the best donors! People fill our Amazon Wishlists and donate money to
help us buy books. We couldn't make the impact we are making without the individual donors.
Where can people learn more about Booklings?
They should check out our Instagram page! @booklings_sd. There is a link-tree in the profile that contains links to everything Booklings has to offer.
Ok - we've learned a lot about Booklings, but what do you like to do outside of this work?
When I’m not doing Booklings, I'm most likely practicing the harp, reading a good book, writing a story, performing in my school play, or eating sushi or Thai food with friends.
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