This was first published in the SU Magazine.

That’s the impact of Books of Hope, a non-profit organization started by senior special education and early childhood education major José Lopez.

“We’re dedicated to spreading the joy of reading by providing new and gently used books to children in hospitals, daycare centers, churches, and other community hubs that support our youth. Our mission is to ‘overcome the bad to create a better good,’” explained Lopez.

Lopez’s inspiration for the organization came from his own personal experiences in a hospital setting. Born prematurely, Lopez spent many months in the hospital. As he got older, his mom shared many stories of the dedicated nurses in the hospital who would read to him during their shifts. Later in life he witnessed his niece undergo surgery for a brain tumor and watched first-hand how small gifts like books can bring hope to children.

GoodSHIP: The Power of Giving  

It should be no surprise when asked what his favorite book was as a child that Lopez quickly answers with The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein. The book tells the story of a tree’s selfless love for a boy and conveys the importance of giving.  “It’s vitally important to get books into the hands of young children because they serve as powerful tools for inspiration and personal growth,” said Lopez.

But the impact of Books of Hope is much larger and backed by years of practice and research. According to Dr. Lynn Baynum, chair of the Teacher Education Department, research indicates students who read often become better readers and are typically stronger students in the classroom.

“With the mission of supporting readers, Books of Hope provides access to reading materials that are not simply connected to classroom lessons. Fundamentally, the distribution of books provides hope for students’ academic engagement and motivates them to see themselves as active readers,” said Baynum.

“Books open up new worlds, sparking imagination, curiosity, and a love for learning. They introduce children to diverse perspectives, cultures, and ideas, fostering empathy, understanding, and acceptance. By promoting literacy from an early age, we equip children with the essential skills and knowledge they need to navigate the world, succeed academically, and achieve their full potential,” added Lopez.

Lopez believes books also provide solace, escape, and companionship during challenging moments, like prolonged hospital stays or other moments of adversity. And Lopez himself has had to overcome moments of adversity through his journey with Books of Hope. Adjustments were needed in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure the safety of the children in hospitals they serve. They paused direct book donations in response, but continued to grow the reach of Books of Home by forging a new partnership with the Albert Gallatin Area School District. Lopez provided the students with resources and guidance that empowered them to begin their own book collection for families, community members, and businesses in their area.

“Together, we initiated a pilot program aimed at introducing high school students to the importance of philanthropy,” said Lopez.

The biggest challenge according to Lopez though is maintaining consistent support and oversight to deliver on the goals he’s set. He is actively building a community of individuals who share his passion as he works to establish a board of directors. By expanding the organization and onboarding a committed team, Lopez hopes to further expand his reach nationwide. Despite these hurdles, Lopez is inspired to continue his forward momentum as he experiences the results of his work.

“The greatest reward comes from hearing firsthand the impact our donations have on children and their families. We receive heartfelt notes and updates from families, sharing how our books brought joy, comfort, and a sense of hope to their lives. These stories remind me of the immense value of selfless service and the transformative power of a simple act of kindness,” Lopez added.

The Power of LeaderSHIP 

As Lopez leads this community initiative, he’s also finding meaningful ways to lead at Ship as he prepares for his career as a teacher.

“As the coordinator of the Teacher Educations Department’s Peer Teacher Leader, José collaborates with his department peers to consider and recommend ways to improve the Teacher Education Department,” explained Baynum.

Lopez was part of a recommendation to update the look and feel of the second floor of Shippen Hall, home of the Teacher Education Department. By creating the look of an elementary or middle school setting, department classrooms allow students to feel submersed in their future work setting. Decorated with different academic themes and motivational posters, Baynum said the spaces also create a sense of wellness and belonging. It was this kind of nurturing classroom environment that Lopez said inspired him to become a teacher.

“I felt valued and supported, which instilled in me a love of learning and a desire to make a difference in the lives of others,” said Lopez.

As he further reflects on his path to becoming a teacher, it is a teacher and a story book that comes to his mind.

“One teacher who stands out is my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Snowberger. Her advice to always remember The Little Engine That Could, and its perseverance in the face of challenges, continues to inspire me in my journey as an educator and founder of Books of Hope,” said Lopez.

As Lopez prepares to graduate in the next year, he’s excited for what’s next. Through his teaching career he hopes to connect with others who are passionate about the Books of Hope cause and see future chapters launched across the country.Learn more about Books of Hope and how to donate at