A thousand books for foster kids: Collinsville student is making a difference

News-DemocratJune 8, 2014 

Paige Farnworth, a college student from Collinsville, likes to read to younger siblings Isabell, 6, and Ben, 3. She recently collected 1,000 books to give to foster children.

MAUREEN HOUSTON/BND

Paige Farnworth recently collected more than a thousand books -- and gave them all away to foster children.

The red-haired college junior from Collinsville donated them to Caritas Family Solutions, a not-for-profit social services agency that cares for 850 foster children in southern Illinois.

"I contacted (Caritas) and told them I had plenty of tubs of books. They were all for it," said Paige, 21, an English education major at Greenville College. "I am a very, very big reader. I've been reading all my life. My parents and grandparents read to me."

Now, she does the same with her youngest siblings, Isabell, 6, and Ben, 3, foster children her family recently adopted.

"My favorite thing is reading to them."

That led her to collect books.

"I woke up one day and decided that's what I wanted to do -- start a nonprofit focusing on books. It's something I love and they love. I want to be an English teacher. I found a way to incorporate all that. I'm going to keep collecting.

She calls her nonprofit "Authors for Foster."

Caritas welcomes her gift.

"From the community to the foster kid, it sends the message, 'You are important. We care about you,'" said Gary Huelsmann, CEO of Caritas, the largest foster care provider in southern Illinois. "The plan is for caseworkers to distribute the books."

Caritas works with 600 foster families.

The Farnworths were one of them. They became a foster family four years ago.

"That didn't surprise me," said Paige. "They'd been talking about that kind of stuff. They were always opening up our home to friends and people who needed it."

Paige is second oldest of Ray and Nansi Farnworth's original four. They officially adopted dark-haired Isabell and energetic Ben on May 22.

"I just look at this adoption as sort of a technical thing," said Paige. "We have already known that they are part of our family. We considered them siblings since the first time they came here."

The Farnworths involved Paige, Alex, 25, Nathan, 19, and Tessa, 17, in the decision to become a foster family. "We knew we wouldn't be able to make the decision without the support of the rest of the family," said Nansi. "It wouldn't have worked well if they weren't going to be alongside us."

She and husband Ray considered adopting before their own children were born.

"We love kids," said Nansi. "We worked with our youth group at church about eight years. When we stepped down, our pastor recommended we take a sabbatical and pray about what the next stage in our life might be.

"Independently we came to the same conclusion. This is what we wanted."

Isabell joined the family in July 2010.

"Soon after that, we were told the mother was pregnant and were asked if we would think about taking another one. He was born the end of September. ... He came home October 1 and we have had him ever since."

On a recently Friday afternoon, Isabell and Ben climbed onto the sofa with Paige, cuddling beside her. She and sister Tessa planned to take them to a book store later, and they couldn't wait.

"I like reading," said Isabell. "It helps me learn."

Tessa and Paige share their bedroom with Isabell. They all pitch in with the younger two.

"It's busy, but the more hands on, the easier the job is," said Nansi, a stay-at-home mom. "I just enlist everybody's help.

"We don't go out as often because of the expense," she said, "but we find other things to do that our kid-friendly. Paige and Tessa love to cook."

The youngest Farnworths take a lot of her energy.

"Ben is like the energizer bunny," said Nansi. "He never stops. He even moves in his sleep."

She wouldn't trade the experience.

"I would encourage people to open their hearts to the possibility. If you can't adopt, maybe you can foster. If you can't foster, you can support the effort."

Or you can donate books suitable for infants to age 20 to Authors for Fosters.

"There's always something someone can do."

We asked Paige a few questions:

How did you collect that many books? "I had help from my local library (Collinsville Memorial Library Center), my church (First Baptist Church of Collinsville) and a lot of my friends. They willingly brought over a lot of books. The library at school was downsizing."

Where do you put a thousand books? "We had them in the garage in totes. They just kept stacking up. We separated them into age groups. There were many, many I wanted to read."

How can people make a donation? Go to Paige's Authors for Foster Facebook page. She'll either arrange to pick up the books or have you deliver them. Books should be appropriate for children from birth to 20 years.

Interested in learning more about foster care? Call Caritas at 618 394-5900.

About Paige:

Parents: Nansi and Ray Farnworth

Siblings: Alex, 25, Nathan, 19, Tessa, 17, Isabell, 6, and Ben, 3

School: Greenville College

Major: English education

Favorite books: "The Lord of the Rings" series, 'A "Song of Ice and Fire' series, Harry Potter, a lot of fantasy stuff."

What are you reading now? "The Divergent" series (by Veronica Roth). My younger sister read it first."

Real books or tablet computers? "I like the real books. I like the touch of them. The smell of old books and new books."

Favorite movie: "I liked the 'Lord of the Rings' series and 'The Hobbit.'"

Favorite food: "Any kind of potatoes and bacon."

Where do you like to eat out? "Carissillos Mexican restaurant in Collinsville."

What do you like to do for fun? "I like to read. I like to write. I like to watch movies with my family. I like to draw."

What do you read to her youngest brother and sister: "To Isabell, C.S. Lewis' 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,' and to Ben, pretty much anything."

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