How One Family’s Passion for Volunteering Brought Books (And Smiles) to Hundreds of Young Learners

Two Generations of Volunteers

“When I was in high school, I did what many girls did: I was a candy striper at the local hospital,” says Tanja Eise .

It was then she discovered her passion for volunteering.

“Later, in college, I mentored a young girl through the ‘Big Brothers Big Sisters Program.”

Today, Tanja has three girls of her own—ages 14, 11, and eight.

Together, they donate their time each month by working at the food pantry that operates out of their local church in Albany, New York.

For many years, the family has also sponsored children in developing countries, helping provide them with basic necessities and the opportunity to get an education.

“Volunteering has always been important to me, and now it’s important to my children, too,” Tanja says.

“It’s a central part of our family identity.”

Recently, Tanja discovered a way to connect her volunteer work with education work at Pearson.

Camp Scully

It all started at Camp Scully, a place Tanja’s three daughters visit each summer.

A thousand co-ed campers between the ages of five and 17 participate in a variety of activities ranging from canoeing to arts and crafts to cooking.

“All of my kids love Camp Scully,” Tanja says.

“It’s a special place that means a lot to us and to our community.”


All of my kids love Camp Scully. It’s a special place that
means a lot to us and to our community.”


The camp director, Colin Stewart, has become a close friend of the family.

That’s why, Tanja says, her family has helped tackle small service projects for Colin in the past.

“We’ve cleared trails, raked leaves, painted camper cabins.”

“I think our work whet his appetite,” she says.

Last spring, Colin called Tanja with a much bigger idea for Camp Scully.

Perfect Timing

Colin’s ask: create a dedicated space for campers to read throughout the summer.

“I was already on the lookout for a bigger volunteer project for our family, something we could really get invested in and take ownership of,” Tanja says.

“Getting children reading is a cause I’m passionate about,” Tanja says.

Before coming to Pearson, Tanja was a teacher.

She says it was during those years that she realized the extraordinary value of children having access to books.

“Reading is absolutely fundamental to learning, and to later successes in life,” she says.

“I want all children, everywhere, to have access to books.”


“Reading is absolutely fundamental to learning, and to later successes in life.
I want all children, everywhere, to have access to books.”


“So, there was my personal passion, and a family passion for Camp Scully,” Tanja says.

“That made it an easy decision.”

From Leaks and Holes to Artwork and Teamwork

The volunteer project got off to a rocky start, Tanja says.

Two of the younger volunteers disassemble bunks in the old cabin that will later be the Book Bungalow.

“When we decided to transform an unused cabin into the library, we expected the dust and the dirt.”

“We didn’t expect to deal with holes in the floor—and in the roof, too.”

Tanja says she asked a friend from her community, a roofing expert, for help.

She also reached out to many families she knew through church to see if they would join the effort.

“I became the unofficial project recruiter,” Tanja says.

In the end, approximately 50 people participated at some point doing the project.

They painted the walls, re-routed electrical wires, installed rugs and benches, and organized books from the various camp buildings, as well as ran a book drive to collect new books, too.

“We organized the books by reading level,” Tanja says. “There’s something for every camper, from pre-school to high school.”

The youngest volunteer was 3, and the oldest was 85.

“The beauty of the project is that it was truly cross-generational,” Tanja says.

“People who would never get to know each other otherwise bonded and even became friends…and all the while we were helping Colin and Camp Scully.”

The Book Bungalow

After more than a year of work, Tanja and her team put the finishing touches on “The Book Bungalow” in time for the start of camp later this month.

“Alliteration is everywhere at Camp Scully,” Tanja says. “The group came up with a bunch of ideas for a name for our library, and then we voted.”

The last thing the volunteers did was decorate the walls with handmade artwork.

“We bought canvases from the local art store, and painted them with famous quotes about reading and learning—everything from Mark Twain to Martin Luther King, Jr.”


“We bought canvases from the local art store, and painted them with famous quotes about reading and learning—everything from Mark Twain to Martin Luther King, Jr.”


“It was a way for each of us to memorialize our time together, and to leave personal touches on the project.”

“Colin was blown away by the result,” she says.

“Truthfully, I think we all were.”

Painting progress in the Book Bungalow.

The Next Project

With the Book Bungalow at Camp Scully complete, Tanja and her family are back to smaller volunteering activities.

“We’re still working at the food pantry, and have committed to helping Colin with some short-term camp projects.”

Tanja says they’re open to another big undertaking if it’s the right fit for their family.

“You know how they say to write about what you know if you’re a writer?”

“I guess I would say, ‘If you’re going to volunteer, do something that truly speaks to you.”

“That’s what The Book Bungalow project was for my family.”


“You know how they say to write about what you know if you’re a writer?
I guess I would say, ‘If you’re going to volunteer, do something that truly speaks to you.”