Hediya Sizar: Changing the World, One Book at at Time

Ever since she discovered the power of the written word, Bring on the Books Co-Founder, Hediya has been actively collecting books, innovatively integrating her work with technology, and changing the world for the better: socially, academically, and environmentally. By merging her own love for stories as well as fiery devotion, Hediya has proven to us that we ourselves wield the potential to inspire. Read on to learn more about Hediya’s journey.

The Deets

  • Name: Hediya Sizar ‘17
  • School & Major: Steinhardt for Media, Culture, Communication
  • Hometown: Bucks County, PA

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HC NYU:  What initially inspired you to launch your project, Bring on the Books?

HS: To start, I’m originally from Pennsylvania, but when I was in fourth grade my family moved to South Korea for a year. I remember being a bit confused because despite the fact that I was attending an international school, my entire class was essentially Korean except for my brother and me. Unsurprisingly, there ended up being a lot of language and cultural barriers. During lunch or recess, when normally kids would interact with each other and play games, I would go to the library instead and bury my head in books. That’s where I discovered the characters that really inspired me. The optimism and internal strength the characters in the Little House on the Prairie translated into my own life, a time when I was lonely. My love of literacy only blossomed from here and became my sanctuary.

Bring on the Books was partly a result of this passion for reading, but was partly accidental too. In middle school, my brother found a dusty box of textbooks that was going to be thrown out soon. Like myself, he also treasured reading. We both hesitated, asking ourselves, “Can we do something with these books?”. Throwing away pages and pages of stories with meaning seemed out of the question. We then thought of a school that was about 45 minutes away in inner-city Philadelphia that needed books more than our school did. And that’s where the story begins. The book drives commenced which is essentially how the journey of our organization took off.

HC NYU: What specific NYU classes or organizations have impacted you as a leader?

HS: The NYU Leadership Initiative has been incredibly influential in my growing as a leader and a person. I was a part of the NYU Leadership Fellows program my last year and through the program I had the opportunity to learn how to craft my story, identify my values, and learn from a group of other inspiring NYU students.  In addition, sophomore year I took a class called How to Change the World. Despite the fluffy title, the class itself (a leadership seminar) paved the way for me to meet a wonderful group of peers who shared similar ambitions. What I especially appreciated the most was that our professors really had us craft and shape our story and our aspirations. Lastly, my Business and Non-Profit Management class was life-changing. It was an undergraduate course that I took at Wagner, the Graduate School of Public Service. Prior to taking the class, BOB had started off with book drives. By taking this class, I realized how much work needed to be done, and began to revamp the organization, eventually resulting in BOB becoming a non profit organization.

HC NYU: What are you most proud of in terms of your organization?

HS: To begin, I think that the impact we’ve had has been incredible. We’ve been able to raise over 70,000 books for low-income neighborhoods in not only New York, but also in Philadelphia, DC, and many other areas. Beyond this, I think something even bigger is the growth we’ve been seen within our organization itself. We started as a local book drive in Pennsylvania, with no idea whatsoever that we would expand nationally. I’ve seen myself grow as a leader. My brother stepped down from the organization as soon as  I came into college (My brother was graduating from Georgetown University and moving on to another start-up he founded) I had to run all the moving parts of the organization on my own at first. This experience has shaped me into who I am today. Words cannot sufficiently describe how grateful I am to be in a place where I have so much support. I have a community of people around me that cheers me on no matter what I do. I’m gratified to be based somewhere the organization can exert visibility; we are internally stronger than ever before. We have a strong team of 4 other NYU students, who have helped transform the organization’s strategy and mission.

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HC NYU: How are you looking to expand Bring on the Books?

HS: The organization is actually in the process of changing the approach to our mission. Before we ran book drives, we connected people who had gently used books with organizations, shelters, and schools that no longer had books. Something that I learned, after doing this for such a long time, is that it’s a very laborious process. It requires a lot of human capital and it’s not sustainable. So I thought to myself, is there any way that, us, as a third party, can directly connect people to organizations that need books? Now we’re in the last phase of an app that connects donors to organizations that are in the area, that need books, and are willing to accept them.

HC NYU: What do you think the future holds for technology and literacy?

HS: I think if anything, literacy is actually going to increase, given that books are much easier to access today than before. Some people may claim that given the development of digital books and the Kindle, paper books are dying. Personally, I don’t think they are because there is a special value in the physical copy of a book. Additionally, there exist many areas that may not have access to the most updated technology. Even if we may no longer read from physical books ourselves, we have a responsibility to, instead of letting them sit in our homes, reroute books to those who can benefit from them. I think that if we work together as a community to decrease the gap of access to books, there is hope for a flourishing literacy rate.

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HC NYU: Have you ever visited the schools that you’ve donated books to?

HS: I actually have a really interesting story. One school I had found had their budget cut and didn’t have the finances to have a school library. So we decided to hold a book drive, and ended up raising more than 2000 books total. The school was in an underdeveloped area and many children didn’t have access to books. Books were almost like a rarity, something treasured. What I saw that day was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. Nowadays, I see kids look at books with reluctance, complaining about how boring they are. But for these kids, this was something new and exciting. I remember them eagerly opening the boxes, looking at the titles with elation, asking “oh my, my brother really loves this book, can I keep this book.” This moment is very personal to me. The warmth I felt from the joy of the children receiving books is what pushes me to work harder today.

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HC NYU: If you could give advice to students who are interested in starting their own non-profit organization, what would you say?

HS: I applaud students who are impassioned to start an organization. However, at the same time I think it’s important to recognize the capacity it takes to run a successful organization. Something I would strongly encourage students to do is to do their research, take classes, and talk to people who have experience. Collaborating with others who share your vision is essential. There are so many people  active in the nonprofit sector with similar goals, but there could still be so much more teamwork and unity. If students aren’t quite ready to lead an organization on their own, perhaps they can consider finding a role within an existing agency and help them make advances. All in all, it’s not easy being a full-time student, young, and running an organization. You don’t have strong contacts compared to older people. That definitely makes fundraising and raising public visibility tricky. In general, I think working in the non-profit sector is wonderful, but it’s crucial to take it with seriousness and prudence, evaluating what one’s visions really are.

And to wrap it up....

  • Favorite Novel (sorry, we had to!): The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
  • Go-to Study Spot: 4th Floor ITS lounge in Kimmel
  • How do You Like Your Coffee: Being honest, I’m more of a tea person!
  • Dream Vacay: Greece

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To learn more about Bring on the Books, check out their website: bringonthebooks.org, or their Facebook page.

Follow Hediya on social media! Facebook: Hediya Sizar, Instagram: @hsizar, Twitter: @hediyasizar