LAKEVIEW — For teen mothers living in dangerous neighborhoods, reading to their babies might be the last thing on their minds.
That was the case for one of Janet Allen's students last year at Lake View High School, 4015 N. Ashland Ave. The student, a senior named Chyla, loved to read on her own, but when Allen, an English teacher, went to visit her in Humboldt Park, baby books were nowhere to be found.
"It didn't occur to me that a mother wouldn't read to her baby," Allen, 31, said. "Some of my best memories were bedtime readings."
Chyla didn't have time to go to the library, and even if she did, it was in an unsafe area. So Allen started to bring Chyla books like The Hungry Caterpillar or Goodnight, Moon. At first she collected used books from friends, but then realized that would not be enough for Chyla's home library to last until her daughter made it to kindergarten. So Allen asked friends and family to contribute.
Soon, the student had a home library and was reading to her child regularly, Chyla's family told Allen. And soon after that, the young mother graduated from high school.
"They want their babies to be smart and successful," Allen said.
LVHS has anywhere from 10 to 15 new teen mothers a year, many of whom face struggles similar to Chyla. So Allen decided to try providing books to other teen moms, too.
She started a campaign to raise enough money and books for the eight students who will be new mothers this year at the school. Allen, who's taught at the school for six years, hopes the books will last the children until they go to school themselves, she said.
From an academic perspective, Allen has seen the difference in students who have been read to earlier. Providing teen moms with books is more than just good will — it helps future generations learn literacy early on.
"These babies may be my student one day," she said.
With Allen's determination, she could very well continue the campaign in the future, too, said fellow English teacher Jen Lawless.
"Janet is one of the most energetic and determined people I have ever known," Lawless said. "Once she takes on a project, she sees it through. She really believes in things."
For now, Allen is focusing on accomplishing this year's goal of raising $1,500 for books. If successful, she wants to continue helping teen mothers at Lake View High School.
"My hope is that we bring the library to them and that they feel safe to check it out every now and then," she said. "This is what I can do right now."
Allen is using indiegogo for the campaign and has raised $750. For every $25 donated, people can get their name and a personal message inscribed in a book, which will be purchased from The Book Cellar, 4736 N. Lincoln Ave.
Anyone interested in donating books may reach out to Allen through the indiegogo page.