Orono High School sophomore Maria Keller couldn't picture going to bed without a bedtime story, and realized some children might not get one at night because they couldn't afford books.
She took matters into her own hands at age 8, starting nonprofit Read Indeed. Since then, she's collected more than 1.7 million books for kids across 48 states and 17 countries, and raised more than $80,000 in individual contributions for new books and shipping.
That initiative helped propel her to an honor for the top two Minnesota youth volunteers of 2016: the Prudential Spirit of Community award. Keller received the high school award; Jasmine Kennebeck, a Wabasha-Kellogg Secondary School seventh-grader, is the state's middle level honoree.
The award honors two outstanding volunteers in every state and Washington, D.C. Each pair receives a $1,000 award, a silver medallion and an all-expenses-paid trip to the nation's capital in early May.
"I became aware that there are children throughout the country and beyond who have never owned a book," Keller said in a release from the Orono school district.
With some assistance from her parents, she publicized the initiative and aimed to collect one million books by the time she turned 18, the release said. She beat it by five years.
At first, she used to keep books in her garage, after receving piles of them on her front steps. Keller's Read Indeed book intake soon outgrew that space, so she moved them to a warehouse.
Now, more than 250 volunteers help her get books to hospitals, orphanages and schools across the nation and world, according to the release.
The Prudential award is one of several the teen has received, including the Jefferson Award for Outstanding National or Global Service by a Young American.