Boy collects nearly 3,000 books for needy

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Amber Cote has seen corporate book drives pull in 100 to 500 books for Success by 6, the early childhood initiative she heads through Pikes Peak United Way.

So imagine her shock when 2,778 books arrived at the steps of the Early Connections Learning Center office, the result of a book drive conducted by a 10-year-old student at High Plains Elementary School.

"This is mind-blowing," Cote said as the boxes of books that Ken Culp collected were unloaded from his mother's car.

Ken calmly took in the accolades flying around him as he explained how he came up with the idea to collect the books. He's a fifth-grader in the talented and gifted program, and was told to find a problem in the community and solve it.

With help from mom Andrea, who knows Cote through her volunteer work with United Way, Ken zeroed in on a book drive.

"The problem in the community is that some kids don't have money to buy books," said Ken, who has the poise of someone well beyond his years. "Some kids can't read."

Before Thanksgiving, he coordinated with the school's teachers to distribute fliers to his schoolmates.

"I'm amazed," his mother said. "I had no idea that we'd have the results we did."

Success by 6 promotes early literacy and learning. The books that Ken donated will go to the 500 or so children in the Early Connections Learning Centers programs, which serve low-income families.

Adults praised Ken's sense of selflessness at a time when "I want" is a common refrain.

"It's just amazing that during the holiday season when most kids his age are concentrating on what they'll receive for Christmas, this young man was centered on what he could do to help other children learn to read," said United Way spokeswoman Vicki Dimond.

The experience has Ken considering a career in philanthropy.

"If I can make this much progress when I'm 10, I wonder how much I can do when I'm pretty old," he said.