Written by Donald A. Promnitz
Editor’s note: As part of of cover of the 10th anniversary of the start of the Great Recession, we are featuring young entrepreneurs, or “kidpreneurs,” who represent the next generation of entrepreneurism that were in diapers during the start of the downturn.
Calling Danay Ferguson a “bookworm” might be putting it lightly. She’s been reading since she was about 2 years old, and has said she can get through three books a day if time permits.
“She’s been caught reading the phonebook,” said Dwayne Ferguson, Reading Heart’s CEO and Danay’s father. “As long as it’s something she can read.”
It was at age 7 that Danay got the idea to open a bookstore, with the full support of her parents. However, upon realizing there were many her age that couldn’t afford books, she altered her direction. Instead of selling books, she resolved herself to give them away. In February 2015, Reading Heart was officially born.
Aimed at providing books to children in underserved areas and hospitals, Reading Heart has collected 700,000 books for their cause and has distributed 250,000. The organization is also in partnership with the Fresno Police Department, with officers distributing Reading Heart books to children they encounter on patrol.
These books are typically accumulated through donations, or are purchased with funding to the organization. Their efforts have included book drives at local schools, with parties going to the ones that donate the most. Last year, Fresno Unified School District was able to collect 39,092 books over a period of 10 days.
In regards to leading a nonprofit, Danay, 12, said that her youth creates a different experience from what most in her position would encounter with its own advantages and disadvantages.
“The bad part of it is people expect you to be more childish, and because I’m short, people expect me to be a different age than I am,” Danay said. “And then the other part of it is I can surprise people when I’m not childish. And when I tell them my real age — I’m still short.”
But Danay is not the only person her age in Reading Heart. According to the Fergusons, the organization is kid-run with eight youth board executives. They are responsible for their own meetings, which include a secretary to take minutes and a treasurer to handle finances. Meanwhile, the adults occasionally step in to offer their experience.
“So we’re just trying to give them mentorship, but it’s theirs,” Dwayne said. “Sometimes they make great decisions, sometimes they make young decisions, but either or, it’s a decision they make as a whole, so we just guide them through it.”
Over time, Danay hopes to see her organization grow with her, while she offers her own two cents to those her age that aspire to start their own enterprise.
“My advice is to not give up and to pursue what you want to,” she said. “There may be difficult times, but not matter what, always keep going.”