Jefferson Students Write Personalized Stories for Children in Underserved Communities

The Story Initiative aims to promote literacy and encourage confidence around the world.
Children holding books
The Story Initiative worked with Aloha Learning Center in Cambodia this year. Pictured here, the children hold the stories written and illustrated by Jefferson students.

In 2016, Sidney Kimmel Medical College students started the Story Initiative to promote literacy, foster creativity and boost self-confidence for children in underserved communities around the world. The group makes these children the heroes, with Jefferson students writing and illustrating personalized stories to send to each child.

“We’ve been really lucky,” says Zoe Wong, a fourth-year medical student and Story Initiative president. “Each year, someone on our executive board connects with a different organization, so we can stretch our wings into communities across the globe.”

The Story Initiative has sent books to underserved children in Tanzania, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Zambia, Haiti, India, Cambodia and more. About 20 children receive the books each year.

Med student Zoe Wong

Medical student Zoe Wong serves as Story Initiative president.

Students who participate in the Story Initiative come from a variety of Jefferson programs. The executive board collects information about the children they’re serving to help personalize the stories.

“We ask kids their favorite color, what they want to be when they grow up, who are their role models and more about their interests,” Wong says. “Then, the Jefferson students look at a list of the children we’re writing for and pick one they feel connected with.”

Participating students often incorporate the child into their story but choose a theme relevant to any culture and age group.

Jefferson students can either write and illustrate stories by themselves or work together as a writer-and-illustrator team. All stories go to the executive board for editing and approval. When finalized, the books are published and printed through Amazon and shipped to the children and Jefferson creators.

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Examples of some recent books written and illustrated by Jefferson students.

The Story Initiative benefits children and gives Jefferson students a creative outlet, Wong says. “I’m going into pediatrics, but I also have a background in fine arts. It’s been great to help illustrate these stories, and I love seeing the feedback once the kids receive their books.”

This year, the Story Initiative worked with Aloha Learning Center, an agency in Cambodia that takes care of at-risk children.

“When the books arrived, the organization sent a photo of all the children holding them,” she says. “It was crazy to see that some of the kids actually looked like their book characters and so heartwarming to see how happy they were.”

Email story.initiative@students.jefferson.edu for more info on the Story Initiative or to participate.

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