Every day on HuffPost, we're highlighting one 'Greatest Person'- an exceptional individual who is confronting the country's economic and political crises with creativity, generosity, and passion. Today we're featuring sixteen-year-old Mackenzie Bearup, whose nonprofit Sheltering Books has accumulated and donated over 48,000 books abused and homeless children. It all started when Mackenzie was ten and began to experience extreme chronic pain caused by Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy. She found relief in reading, and she now hopes to share the comforting power of books with others who need it.
Huffington Post: Tell us about Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy. How did you develop it? Describe what it's like to live with it.
Mackenzie Bearup: When I was 10 years old, I developed RSD, a disease of the nervous system whose pain is characterized as constant, extremely intense, and out of proportion to the original injury. There is no cure.
I was jumping on my bed, dancing to American Idol. All of a sudden, something in my left knee popped. It has been six and a half years now, and I live in terrible pain every day. I have had epidurals, nerve blocks, acupuncture, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, magnet therapy, years of physical therapy and taken all types of pain medications. But nothing stops the pain.
The only way I have found to truly take my mind off the pain is reading: it really helps me to escape into a book -- and away from my pain. Only recently did I learn that it has a name: bibliotherapy.
HP: How did your experience with RSD help you develop your idea for Sheltering Books, Inc.?
MB: My doctor told me about The Murphy Harpst Children's Center, a residential treatment center for some of our country's most abused children. Murphy Harpst had room to open a library for the children who reside there, but few books.
I thought about how reading helped me get my mind off my pain, and hoped that books could do the same thing for these children. I gathered up the books I no longer needed and asked friends and neighbors if they had books to donate, and soon my book drive took off. I collected and donated over 10,000 books to Murphy Harpst, filling their library to capacity.
HP: Where do you donate books? How many have you donated? Who donates them? How do you match kids up with books?
MB: I donate books to any homeless shelters that house children. I've donated over 48,000 books since 2004. I get most of the books by going to garage sales, leaving flyers that ask if they would like to donate any unsold books they have left over. I also receive books from schools, authors, publishing companies, and people across the US who hear about what I'm doing. I go through each box of books and sort the books by age range and interest, to make sure that books go to the right type of shelter. An all-boys shelter might not be too thrilled with Barbie or Mary Kate and Ashley books.
HP: How can people get involved in your organization?
MB: They can donate books or make a monetary donation by visiting my website, www.shelteringbooks.org. They can also contact me via the website to find shelters in their area that need books.
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