Q&A With Microgrant Recipient Isabella


Karma for Cara Foundation awards microgrants to youths 18 years of age and younger who spearhead exceptional service projects in their communities.  Meet Isabella from Yorba Linda, CA who used her microgrant to fund a literacy intervention project called “Read a Story, Change a Life.” Using a template developed by Higher Ground Youth and Family Services, a local outreach program servicing at-risk youth, Isabella and volunteers made their project mobile. Incorporating puppet shows about reading and writing and engaging children in storytelling, Isabella hopes to engender a love of reading and writing in young children to promote equal access to literary success.

  1. What inspired you to start this project? I come from a family who has taught me the importance of volunteerism. Through organizations such as my church, Girl Scouts, National Charity League, the Yorba Linda Public Library, and my school Rosary Academy, I have volunteered over 1,000 hours of service. One organization, which I have worked with for the past five years, inspired me to want to do more. Higher Ground Youth and Family Services, a local intervention program for at-risk youth has been my inspiration. While working at Higher Ground summer camp, I noted a great need for a literacy intervention program. Upon further investigation, I learned that 78% of the children who attended the camp, and the remaining students at the adjacent Lincoln Elementary, are reading 2 grade levels below the California State Standard. This sobering fact led me to further discovery that by national standards, children not reading at grade level by the end of first grade, have an 88% chance of not reading at grade level by the end of fourth grade. If this continues, these children are twice as likely to drop out of school before graduation. Many of the children at Higher Ground face daily obstacles such as poverty, language barriers, unstable homes, and peer pressure to join gangs. These same children have never been to their local library or witnessed a live theatrical event. Some of the children shared with me that they were not “allowed” by their parents to check out books from the school library for fear of not being able to afford overdue or lost book fees. With this information, I decided to create “Read a Story, Change a Life,” a literacy intervention program designed to inspire a love of reading through storytelling and writing workshops to provide equal access to literary success. It was my hope and dream to be able to one day share the program with the underprivileged children at the St. Joseph Primary School in Kampala, Uganda. This school is under the direction of Fr. Josephat Ddunga, a close family friend and inspiration to me for the work he does in Uganda.
  2. Other than you, how many student volunteers participated in your service project?  120
  3. Other than you, how many adult volunteers participated in your service project? 11
  4. How many hours did you spend on your project? 248
  5. How many hours did other volunteers spend on your project? 65
  6. How many individuals were affected by your project?  300
  7. During the time period between when you applied for a K4C microgrant & when you completed the project, what surprised you? The most surprising aspect of this process has been the number of people I have come in contact with who were willing to lend a hand, share a resource, knowledge, advice, and mentoring. My best advice for other young people who have the desire to make a change is to just go for it, confidently and passionately put your request out there, and don’t take no for an answer, find your “yes.” I have learned that age does not define one’s ability to create change in the world. The only way I was able to create this project was by sharing my passion for its need. I have found that most people really want to help, they just need to see your passion and receive an invitation.
  8. Overall what did you learn from this experience? The process of finding a cause I feel passionate about, developing a plan of attack, and getting others to care enough to join me on the journey, has been life-changing. Although I have volunteered for many organizations in the past, this experience of growing my own idea has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. My leadership skills have grown as I have gained the ability to work with others to make “Read a Story, Change a Life” a reality. My compassion has grown through coming to know so many amazing children who, through no fault of their own, are faced with tremendous challenges on a daily basis, yet remain hopeful. It was with great joy that I watched the children attending our program become more confident readers as they began to boldly read aloud, put on puppet shows for their peers and create their own stories during our writing workshops. One of my most memorable moments was delivering over $5,000.00 worth of new books, some of which were funded by my Karma4Cara grant, to these children. It is my hope that “Read a Story, Change a Life” will continue to grow to help fight illiteracy all around the world by allowing the children who attend to dream beyond their circumstances and know that they can read with confidence. This experience has also taught me the power of simply asking. Although I did receive many “no’s” to my request, I am absolutely astounded at the number of “yes'” I received.
  9. How will your project continue having an impact in the future?  The goal of “Read a Story, Change a Life,” was to take what I have learned from growing up at my local library and bring it to children who have not benefited from the same experience. Our program, which includes puppet shows, skits, songs and writing workshops, instructional information for puppetry, and an instructional DVD, which was self produced, is designed to empower these kids to read and write their own stories. Our program is in partnership with Higher Ground Youth and Family Services and has been adopted by the Yorba Linda Public Library as an outreach program inspiring a love of reading throughout our community. In the beginning, the students attending our weekly program were hesitant. Through patience and with continued enthusiasm we were able to gain their trust. Our program currently services over 300 low income families at Higher Ground and is now servicing the residents of Oakcrest Terrace, a low income community with an existing preschool. In an effort to sustain the program for years to come, the existing volunteers at Higher Ground have been trained and given story time templates, materials and an instructional DVD, which we produced. Our donation of over $5,000.00 worth of new AR reading books to start the HG Library will ensure the students have equal access to books and taking reading comprehension tests after school. We now have a team of over 120 volunteers and this number is growing as the Reaching Higher Ground Club and Teen Advisory members continue to grow.
  10. How was the K4C microgrant helpful in the completion of your project?  “Read a Story, Change a Life” has been a passion of mine since 2017. I have watched the program grow, struggle, and then grow again. The grant from Karma4Cara enabled me to successfully fulfill a promise I made to build a permanent library collection for the students at Higher Ground. I am still involved in my project and am very inspired by the number of people who want to partner with me. To date, the literacy rates at Lincoln Elementary school have increased 20%, with over half of the students successfully meeting their AR Reading goal for the first semester of this year. In this community, this is a giant step in literacy intervention because many of these students attend our after school programs. It is too early to see the results of the program at St Joseph school in Uganda. I’m hopeful that the storytime materials, puppets, portable theater, instructional DVD, and scripts will be a valuable teaching aide to the staff at the school. My next goal is to raise the money needed to travel to Uganda to visit the school this year. I’d like to assist and personally train the teaching staff and spend time with the children to help grow their love of reading.