Forty-two days from now, it will officially be March — or as grade school students know it, National Reading Month. All across the country, schools are dedicating the entire month to providing quality reading time to students, regardless of the school they go to. It’s an annual educational tradition.

But for Martin Luther King Jr. Education Center Academy in Detroit, things will be a little different this year.

A public charter school located 37 miles from the University of Michigan, MLK Education Center Academy is an institution that caters to around 400 students in kindergarten and up. It’s a school that also offers early childhood programs, and a school looking for additional resources to compliment all 400 students’ educations — a school that could greatly benefit from donated books for this year’s National Reading Month.

Enter Michigan hockey senior goaltender Zach Nagelvoort.

Nagelvoort, with the help of his friend Katie Stepnitz, has streamlined the organization of a book drive put forward by the Michigan hockey community for MLK Education Center Academy. Last year, Stepnitz — a first-year teaching assistant at the time — asked Nagelvoort to read at a school where she was assistant teaching. Nagelvoort brought along a few teammates — senior forwards Justin Selman and Cristoval ‘Boo’ Nieves and current junior forward Tony Calderone — and casually stepped in to read to the children.

Afterwards, Nagelvoort and Stepnitz looked to transform the one-time experience into a regular reading program. But it wasn’t as easy as it initially seemed.

“We had this idea, ‘Why don’t we make this a regular thing?’,” Nagelvoort said. “She’s now teaching at Logan Elementary in Ann Arbor, and we thought — we didn’t know at the time — we thought, ‘Whatever school she goes to, we’ll set up a reading program, we’ll come in and read.’ We tried to start doing that and then we realized it was going to be way too much work to do in one year, so what could we do to help impact a school around us? Let’s do a book drive.”

So the search began for a school that could genuinely benefit from their support. Stepnitz reached out to some fellow student-teaching assistants, and the duo was ultimately set up with a visit to the MLK Education Center Academy. And after touring the school, meeting with the principle and spending time with a classroom of students, there was no doubt that it was the perfect school for the book drive.  

While the administrators of the school were proud, the students’ enthusiasm really sealed the deal for Nagelvoort and Stepnitz. They began planning the book drive, but Nagelvoort brought it to another level. He pitched the idea to the Michigan hockey coaches, and the ensuing support from the staff of the entire program has now resulted in a full-scale book drive.

The book drive will start as early as Wednesday, with boxes located at Yost Ice Arena and the Stephen M. Ross Academic Center. Anyone is encouraged to drop off books, and while new books are appreciated, they aren’t required. Nagelvoort plans to donate books from his childhood, and hopes many others will do the same.

The ultimate goal is to collect 500 donated books by February 4th so that they can all be delivered by the start of National Reading Month. But Nagelvoort believes the Michigan community can do even better.

“If we get 500 books, I’m going to be thrilled — I think we can do more than that, I think Michigan can do a lot more than that …. The platform that we have here at Michigan as student athletes, and as students in general, but particularly as student athletes, I don’t think is used nearly enough,” Nagelvoort said. “And that’s part of my motivation at the end of last year, when Katie reached out to me about reading, I was like, ‘That’s awesome.’

“I have tried to get as involved as I can in things, going out to (C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital) on Thursdays and working with Athletes for Community Transformation. But I didn’t feel like I was doing enough with the platform I had, and like I said, here at Michigan, athletes are great about doing it, but we can never do it enough. There’s never a limit. That’s kind of what motivated me to get out and make this happen.”

The amount of work Nagelvoort and Stepnitz have put into organizing the book drive goes beyond what typical college athletes tend to do. In addition to schoolwork and a Big Ten hockey schedule, Nagelvoort has now added a new slew of responsibilities to his to-do list.

But he doesn’t see it that way. Instead of watching NHL highlights while relaxing in the evenings, he’s organizing social media content and scheduling with Stepnitz. He even sent out an email to other student athletes asking for their participation, and is looking to start a group that will attend readings with students once a month.

He’s also hoping that this experience will make such an impression on fellow student athletes that they will keep the tradition going after he graduates.

For fellow goaltender and freshman Jack LaFontaine, none of Nagelvoort’s actions in the book drive surprised him.

“Honestly, the type of guy (Nagelvoort) is, it doesn’t surprise me,” LaFontaine said. “He’s just a very sympathetic young man, and I think he holds a lot of integrity. Just doing something like this doesn’t surprise me at all.

“I don’t know how he does it. Between hockey, school and now this book drive, it’s pretty crazy. But he puts 110 percent into everything he does, he’s a very passionate guy and I know he’s going to do this book drive to the fullest of his abilities. It’s probably going to be very successful, so fingers crossed.”

The book drive will extend until February 4th, when Michigan plays in a two-game series against Ohio State at Yost.

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