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Transforming society through the power of literature

A unique student-driven project recognizes the power of literature to transform individuals and societies while supporting the freedom to read and write. The West Virginia University Higher Education Student Association’s mission underscores educational, vocational and personal development for people who are imprisoned.

WVU HESA recently collaborated with the Appalachian Prison Book Project as part of their engagement in the 2022 WVU Week of Purpose. APBP focuses on challenging mass incarceration through books, education and community engagement.

“We wanted to partner with a non-profit for a service project revolving around education and systemic injustice. The Appalachian Prison Book Project was the perfect cause to support, with its mission of combining books, education and community engagement," Ashley Leggett-Bradley, student in the Ph.D. in Higher Education program, said.

Leggett-Bradley, from Greencastle, Pa., says that individuals in the prison system are often overlooked. “We believe that education is a basic human right that should be afforded to all,” she added. “We decided to host a book drive over the fall semester to provide educational and entertaining reading materials for Appalachian prisoners.” HESA members will provide donated books to people imprisoned in six states: West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio and Maryland.

During the recent College of Applied Human Sciences fall fair, the group hosted a bean toss game where participants could donate a book or make a financial donation in exchange for participating in the activity and entering a raffle. “It was a huge success, with more than 160 books donated thus far. Additionally, we received approximately $50 in donations in support of the Appalachian Prison Book Project,” Leggett-Bradley said.

Graduate students Corrine Ullom, M.A. in Higher Education Administration, from New Hope, Pa., and Brooke Ashby, M.A. in Higher Education Administration, from Mannington, W.Va., have been instrumental in the project efforts while working with Leggett-Bradley.

“WVU HESA is comprised of an amazing group of students who are deeply committed not just to the betterment of institutions of higher education, but to the communities they serve, as well. Our students are passionate about education, social justice and Appalachia. This project enabled them to engage with these issues while serving the land-grant mission” said Erin McHenry-Sorber, CAHS associate professor of higher education, School of Education.

“Through the leadership of these students, HESA has promoted this initiative on social media, within the School of Education and at the CAHS fair. They have put an incredible amount of time into this project. I am so proud of their efforts.”

HESA members will distribute the donated books across prisons in the Appalachian region. “They will be used in prison book clubs, libraries and GED or college courses. These books support educational, vocational and personal development, using literacy to transform individuals and societies,” Leggett-Bradley said.

HESA is accepting both financial and book donations through the end of the semester. Donations can be dropped off at Allen 501 and the Land Grant Center. Venmo donations are accepted at @HESAFundraiser.

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