To put it mildly, Dakota Williams



"I think books are the best things in the world," said Dakota, 11. "I think books can really intrigue people. And books can help them not think about bad things that are going on."

So when his teachers at William P. Tatem Elementary School in Collingswood challenged him and his fellow fifth graders to come up with projects that would be good for the community and make the world a better place, for Dakota it was a no-brainer:

He was going to do something with books.

He just had no way of knowing how many of them.

On Wednesday, Dakota and his mother, Corine, will hop into their Dodge Nitro and drive a second batch of the more than 1,900 books he collected, plus $175 in cash donations, to their recipient, Cooper University Hospital.

"I feel good," Dakota said. "I thought it just would be 200 books and $100, and that would be it, but obviously not."

"He was inspired," said Christa Logue, who, with fellow fifth-grade teacher Denise Wade, made the assignment in January. "He loves books, so this was a passion of his."

Logue said she first gave the assignment about 10 years ago in another school district. It was presented to the Collingswood fifth graders this year while they were learning about the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Logue said, "to try to show everybody has a voice."

Dakota's classmates rose to the occasion in creative ways for many important causes - the environment, cancer awareness, bringing meals to a family in need. One student made posters widely distributed to help Monarch butterflies. Another, Logue said, raised $2,000 to help with Dup 15q, a rare disease her cousin has.

Dakota wanted to help kids with books, but how?

Not long before, his older brother, Cole, was treated in Cooper's emergency room after passing out at home. Dakota did not go to the hospital, but he asked a lot of questions, his mother said. It left an impression.

He decided he wanted to do something for the children in the waiting room - and for Cooper.

"To his thinking, they did something to help his brother, so he wanted to do something to help them," said Corine, an assistant college comptroller.

The plan became a campaign. The Cooper Hospital Foundation helped Dakota come up with a flier, which he and his father, Dean, a Dick's Sporting Goods manager, asked businesses along Haddon Avenue to post.

The owner of Frugal Resale on the avenue agreed to be a drop-off spot.

And the Williamses, who are no strangers to service and volunteering, are fortunate to have lots of family and friends.

"A lot of our family and friends have been very good about going through their closets," said Corine. "A lot of them are teachers."

Sure enough, the books started amassing in the Williamses' West Collingswood basement.

The Cooper Foundation was glad to get the books for children to read in the hospital's waiting room as well as to receive as gifts. Dakota's donation is part of the foundation's annual Love to Read book drive.

"Whenever we have any community event, we try to have books for the children," said foundation president Susan Bass Levin. "We love having these books."

Truth be told, Dakota and his mother are going to be a little sorry to see them go.

"I think I'll miss seeing piles and stacks on the table," Dakota said.

"He would love to see this continue," Corine Williams said. If people say they have more books to give, she said, the Williamses will get them to Cooper. "We know they'll be well-used."

Dakota has hopes for his books: "I hope that they last a while, and they really help the kids and make them happy."

He at the moment is enjoying Gulliver's Travels, and has lots to look forward to: starting middle school next year, playing soccer, and a family trip to Walt Disney World. When he grows up, who knows? Maybe a newscaster.

And for those who would also like to change the world, Dakota's advice would be: Start with your little part of it.

"I would tell them, start with family and friends," he said, "and if you really have faith in your project, then by all means, go ahead."