Grimsby university student uses books to empower at-risk youth here and abroad

Annilea Purser of the Bookwork Initiative Annilea Purser show off a letter given to healthcare workers at Joseph Brant Hospital hospital during the BookWorm Initiative's "COVID Campaign" earlier this fall.

A Grimsby university student, who once used her love of books to get through a struggle with mental health, has turned her passion into a non-profit organization that helps at-risk youth.

Annilea Purser, now a Brock University student, started the Bookworm Initiative in 2017 with the goal of hosting book drives to provide literature to at-risk youth across Ontario.

Her latest project aims to provide 50 at-risk youth in Uganda with school books.

Before expanding, she started leveraging the power of books here at home. With the help of her family and the community, she held a successful first campaign where over 7,000 children’s books were collected, organized into gift baskets, and donated to youth experiencing homelessness.

However, when Purser started university, the goal changed slightly. “During my first few years of secondary school, I struggled with mental illness and found that reading books provided me with an escape from everyday struggles. I combined this realization with my passion for helping others to form the vision of BookWorm.”

Today, the BookWorm Initiative is a student-run organization with Purser at the helm. It is mission is multi-faceted. At its core, it aims to empower at-risk youth with books. In Canada, she wants to reduce homeless illiteracy rates.  Its latest campaign has its sights set to help students in Uganda.

The organization teamed up recently with ACT for HOPE in Jinja, Uganda to raise money to buy school books for at-risk youths in the African nation.

Purser was introduced to ACT for HOPE through a contact who told her that the organization had a similar mission to her organization. She contacted the founder, Wilber Ouma, who told her he wanted to help 50 youths in his community who did not have the books needed to attend school.

“This is when he and I began collaborating,” said Purser. Together they created the Study & Work @ Home Campaign, an initiative that will “combine BookWorm’s mission of literacy and mental wellness with ACT for HOPE’s mission for educating and empowering less fortunate youth.”

After the conversation with Ouma, Purser along with the BookWorm team – Kendall Caperchione, Ben Mandigo, Daniel Krowchuk, and Andrew Lawrence – began working out the logistics of a new campaign.  It involves creating self-care boxes for people who are studying and working at home, with all proceeds going to ACT for HOPE.

To fund the project, BookWorm Initiative will be selling the self-care boxes to residents in the Niagara and Halton areas to raise money to purchase school books for at-risk youths in Uganda.

The handmade boxes will contain products like mugs and hot chocolate, as well as destress and self-care related products like bath bombs, handmade soaps, and more.

“[The boxes] are designed to be the perfect gift for anyone in your life who has had to transition to virtual working or studying during the COVID-19 pandemic, while also giving back to others,” said Purser.

Starting Dec. 2, boxes will be sold for $25 each and will be hand-delivered to residents in the Niagara and Halton area before Christmas in a manner following COVID-19 guidelines. These boxes can be purchased at:

This Christmas campaign isn’t the first initiative the BookWorm team has run this year. The organization ran a “COVID Campaign” earlier this fall. It involved collecting letters of support and motivation from the community for healthcare workers that were later distributed at Joseph Brant Hospital.

“The purpose of this campaign was to continue motivating local young people to develop their literacy skills while supporting our frontline heroes,” said Purser.

With the help of the BookWorm team, Purser reimagined the original goal to focus on empowering at-risk youth through education and literacy.

“The BookWorm team truly believes that education has the ability to empower young people in a way that cannot be replicated,” said Purser.

Her plan is to continue to grow the non-profit in the coming years. “I am very fortunate to be surrounded by a team of highly-motivated individuals who believe that the sky is the limit,” she said. “I hope to see this organization continue to grow its global reach to become allies with other organizations like ACT for HOPE.”

You can support the BookWorm Initiative in their vision to empower at-risk youth, by supporting their Christmas campaign and purchasing a Study & Work @ Home box on their website.