- Associated Press - Friday, August 12, 2016

OPELIKA, Ala. (AP) - Incoming freshmen in the Honors College at Auburn University were hitting the books before class even starts.

Twenty-five students counted 66,664 books while taking inventory for the Jean Dean Reading Is Fundamental office in Opelika as part of the third annual K(no)w Poverty? Week of Service camp.

Fifty-three students heard lectures from volunteers, professors and officials about the problems of poverty and then put those lessons into practice with volunteer work, according camp organizer Ken Thomas, associate director of Student Affairs.

“Poverty has been a big issue for us in the Honors College,” Thomas said. “The university is a little bit of a bubble, but we’re surrounded by the elements of poverty. So we really wanted to ensure that every honors student understands the reality of poverty.”

Besides volunteering on Thursday at the Jean Dean Reading Is Fundamental facility, which provides books to children, students volunteered at Alabama Rural Ministry locations in Notasulga, Auburn, Opelika and Salem.

Cathy Gafford, director of Jean Dean Reading Is Fundamental, said having volunteers is crucial for the organization to function.

“Having the Honors College is a real big help,” Gafford said. “I have a real big heart for the Honors College.”

The books the students inventoried will be distributed to children all over Alabama in Head Start programs.

Students also do a poverty simulation with Alabama Possible, a nonprofit organization founded to combat poverty.

“Their eyes are opened,” Thomas said.

Students who participated in the previous two years are now counselors guiding the incoming students through the week.

“We live so close to poverty every day, and I had never thought about it that way,” said Alex Dobbins, a sophomore in biomedical sciences and counselor. “You just realize you’re (around) it, even though you don’t know it.”

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Information from: Opelika-Auburn News, https://www.oanow.com/

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