JACKSON TWP.  Lillian (Lily) Wahl has experienced a number of highlights in her young life, including attending Jackson High School this year as a freshman. Another important milestone she reached this year was the collection and donation of 5,818 books, toys and other items to kids recovering from surgery or in the emergency room at Aultman hospital.

Wahl, who is 13, started collecting books and toys to donate because of her own experience with surgery. Just before Lily’s fifth birthday, she had her tonsils and adenoids removed at Aultman Hospital. While in recovery, she was able to pick a toy off the toy cart. And, she was allowed to pick one for her little brother, Charlie.  

She felt having the toy took her mind off the pain for a little while.  

"I started collecting the books, toys and art supplies for kids recovering from surgery and for those in the emergency room as a way to pay it forward for my getting a Barbie doll from the toy cart when I came out of surgery," Lily said.

Already a book lover and prolific reader by the time she entered kindergarten, her love of reading has flourished through her elementary and middle school years. Lily decided for her seventh birthday (July 16, 2012) to ask friends and family to bring new books to her birthday party to donate to Jayani’s Treasure Chest. She wanted to give presents instead of receiving birthday presents for herself. That year alone, she collected 125 items to donate.

"She’s continued to collect items every year since then." said Amy Wahl, who is Lily's mother. "Now the donations go to the Aultman Foundation who accepts donations for Jayani’s Treasure Chest. We added it all up and it comes to 5,818 items she has collected and donated over the past seven years." 

The number of items increased each year as follows: 2012, 125 items; 2013, 175 items; 2014, 200 items; 2015, 225 items; 2016, 1,004 items; and 2017, 2,416 items. Amy Wahl said 404 items were purchased in 2017 with a $500 grant Lily was awarded from the Junior League of Stark County in November 2016.

"The Junior League surprised her at school to announce she had won the grant," Amy Wahl said.

Lily has continued to collect the items this past year. She received 1,673 items with 465 being used by the Aultman College of Nursing’s Little Library in January. Amy Wahl said the needs of the Aultman Foundation has changed a bit.

"Lily had 535 new books and 323 toys and art supplies for the toy cart but The College of Nursing was still using Lily’s winter donation and did not need any used books, so she donated 350 items to Dueber Elementary School’s Library," Amy Wahl said. "Their library tech, Jenny Arnold, accepted the donation."

In addition to the donations going to Jayani’s Treasure Chest, the Reach Out & Read program at Aultman Hospital also used her book donations.

Lily has accomplished many things in her young life including being nominated by the Jackson Memorial Middle School (JMMS) principal as Canton Repository Kid of Character for December 2015. She maintained a 4.0 GPA all throughout midle school and was involved in numerous activities. In eighth grade, she was in STEM club, was part of the Cub’s Column Newspaper, played in the jazz band as a percussionist and was on student council.  Her hard work and grades have allowed her to skip two grades in school.

Lily has been volunteering two afternoons a month at the Jackson Library for the last year and also spent some time with her mother during the summer helping with the Stark County Hunger Task Force Backpack program. Plus, she’s on the speech & debate team and loves sailing. Lily is also working on her black belt in Karate at East Coast Martial Arts.

"East Coast Martial Arts let me put a book drop box at the door of the gym over the summers and that’s where so many of our donations came from the past couple of years," Lily said. "Plus, word-of-mouth has helped. I have people that seek me out to donate books and toys."

Lily plans to continue collecting through her high school years. She’s also contemplating her future and thinking about studying law or astrophysics at college. And, she might try to attend the U.S. Air Force Academy. Her favorite topics in school include history, Spanish and science.

One thing she is certain of is that she will continue to give back to the community in any way that she can throughout her teen years and into her adult life. She’ll also continue to be an avid reader. Amy Wahl said Lily had read all of the Harry Potter books by the time she turned seven.

"Reading allows us to walk in a different reality," Lily said. "That’s been one of the big incentives for me as a reader."

While she has a big future ahead of her, for now, Lily said, "I’m grateful to everyone who has donated books and toys to the book drive over the past several years. It’s meant a lot to me and has helped me spread the love of reading."

Anyone interested in donating or any groups interested in receiving books, toys or art supplies, contact Lily and her mother at lilysbookdrive@gmail.com.