Rossmoor teen changing the world one book at a time

Kayla Teng's love of books and reading has led to a campaign to distribute children's books to underserved homes.

Kayla Teng is already writing chapters of her own Book of Life. Her message is simple yet profound.

“The very future of our world depends on children’s access to books,” Teng, a Rossmoor teen, tells the Board of Directors meeting of the Rossmoor Community Services District.
What began as a scouting research project for Teng has blossomed into a campaign for children’s literacy.

“My community service project is called ‘Key to Literacy,’” Teng told the Directors, as she sought approval for her “Storytime” book drive to appear at the upcoming Rossmoor Family Fest on Sept. 9.

The teen then made a strong case for her campaign.

“Literacy serves as the building blocks of the foundation upon which education is built in our rapidly evolving world,” Teng told the board. “Literacy and education are pretty much the key to solving many advanced tasks and even basic ones,” she added.

“Literacy and education unlock doors in our personal growth, but they can also lead to better understanding, effective communication, and widespread education help solve many larger and collective issues,” the Oxford Academy student told the RCSD Directors.

Teng, who was recently selected as “Miss Anaheim Teen,” has now attracted the support of the Orange County United Way and California Pizza Kitchen in her unrelenting quest to distribute children’s books to underserved households.

Teng with RCSD Director Jo Shade, left ane General Manager Joe Mendoza, right.

“Being proficient in literacy all starts at a young age,” she said, noting that “It starts with fostering a love for reading.” “I know, I’ve always loved reading from a young age.”

A couple of years ago, Kayla decided to seek her Girl Scout Bronze Award. For that project, Teng decided to build a website linking the tiny “share a book” libraries dotted throughout Rossmoor. She met Joe Mendoza, the general manager, who she said has been very helpful to her along with the entire RCSD Board and staff.

Kayla then made her case for why it was so important to get children’s books (kindergarten to third grade) into more underserved homes.

“One in five children don’t have access to books,” Teng told the Board, “And 61% of low-income families don’t have a single children’s book in their home – and that is absurd,” said Teng.

“And those are the children who most likely are not going to be proficient in reading. If they’re not proficient by fourth grade,” said Teng, “they’re 45% more likely to drop out of high school.”

“And dropping out of high school, where I come from, is a really big deal,” she said, “so that’s why I started ‘Literacy is Key.’”

Courtesy photo
A girl scout project years ago inspired her current campaign to improve literacy among younger readers.

“My initiative is focused on three core elements; using the internet online to advocate, doing Storytime’s, and book drives,” she said.

“I’ve been working with United Way of Orange County,” she said, to raise money to buy books. “I have already donated 150 books to underprivileged schools in Anaheim,” said Teng.

“And when I presented the kids with these books, they told me, ‘Oh my god, I can take these home’…and the fascinated looks on their faces. It told me that it was all worth it,” said Teng.

The junior high book philanthropist hopes to distribute at least one book to every Title 1 school in California and donating 300-400 more books locally.
They are asking for children’s books or books from kindergarten to third grade, the Directors were told.

Director Jo Shade told Kayla “This is a program that’s after my own heart, having a daughter who’s huge on reading as well because that’s like her thing. So, I totally get it.”

“I actually saw the program that you’re running on social media,” said Shade. “So that’s great. Right. Isn’t that nice? I know. I would like to see more of that social media done for sure. No question. I think it’s wonderful,” she said.

Director Nathan Searles offered to put Kayla in touch with the Friends of the Library group. “Awesome,” said Kayla.

Director Michael Maynard said Kayla’s enthusiasm for books reminded him of his dad, a man he said in retirement led a group of CEOs who would visit schools and read to kids.
“All that said, I’m a big fan of what you’re trying to accomplish,” said Maynard, who was the acting President for the August meeting. “Thank you so much for your time and for your efforts and we are all on your side.”

“Key to Literacy” donations can be dropped off at the RCSD Office, 3001 Blume Drive, Rossmoor, there is a QR code for her GoFundMe campaign and volunteers or persons with questions can email Kayla directly at

For Teng, books are the future and literally means success or failure at a young age for so many. Yet her work, she said, puts her face-to-face with children whose lives are about to be changed.

“Because these kids are going to get books in their hands, they’re going to understand stories and they are going to understand the joy of literacy,” she said.