Whenever he is in the mood, Atlantic City High School student Yonah Bromberg Gaber, 17, enjoys having the opportunity to choose from the selection of books that he has started to collect in his home.

But, when the time came for the junior to brainstorm ideas for a service-learning project for the school's first Peer Group Connection program, he quickly realized that not every child in the area had the same access to literature.

"I love books," he said, "so I decided that it would be a great thing to be able to share that experience."

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On Monday, March 25, a small group of upperclassmen representing PGC - a program designed to help freshmen make a successful transition into high school with the help of peer guidance - delivered nearly 2,000 gently used books to three local schools and community centers.

And the day, which started with early hours of wet, cold snow, ended with warm greetings and smiles as students at the Uptown Complex School in Atlantic City were called down to the library to pick from the varied collection.

"At one point there were some girls who were trading back and forth," Bromberg Gaber said, "and to me it was just amazing to see these kids want to read that much."

"It was like Christmas morning," said Alex Grassi, a social studies teacher at the school who teaches the first class of PGC students alongside English teacher Euna Ji. "All the smiles on their faces really made it worth it in this weather," Ji said.

But it was the damaging weather that came with Hurricane Sandy months before their book drive that encouraged the 10 juniors and seniors to agree on a project that wouldn't cost a cent to run.

The Boys and Girls Club on Pennsylvania Avenue would be their last stop of the day - an area hit particularly hard by the October storm. Hudson Lee, the club's director of operations, greeted the students and their delivery with gratitude.

"This is a big deal," Lee said. "This is a part of the rebuilding phase and things like this contribute."

Between its two locations - the other sitting just feet from the bay on Sovereign Avenue - the club has more than 600 registered members, many of whom love to read, Lee said.

The donation of books "came at a perfect time," he continued, noting that the club lost many books due to flooding.

"Things like this definitely have an impact," he said.

In two weeks, the pre-K to adult titles were collected by the ACHS students, teachers and staff, with some additional help from the Brigantine North School and residents of the surrounding communities.

PGC, in its first year, meets as a daily class, and is based on a curriculum provided by the Princeton Center.

Suggested to the school by Superintendent Donna Haye and funded by Caesar's Entertainment, the program allows upperclassmen to mentor ninth-graders through weekly outreach activities.

The school, both heavily diverse and populated - with about 2,200 students - becomes unknown territory for an incoming freshman. The program sees that the group of juniors and seniors lessen this intimidating situation.

As role models, they're "making a lifelong commitment to learning and developing leadership skills," Grassi said.

And while Grassi and Ji have seen firsthand the overwhelmingly positive results in the classroom, PGC coordinator Tanya Cain has noticed the responsibility the students have taken on outside the classroom.

"It gives them a different perspective outside of their own world," the job placement coordinator for the school said of the book drive. "Hopefully beyond high school, beyond college, they'll continue to reach out."

Contact Caitlin Honan:

609-272-7227

CHonan@pressofac.com

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