Danay Ferguson is changing the world – one book donation at a time.
At 8-years-old, Danay is the youngest business owner in Fresno, California, where the literacy rate is shockingly low when compared to the rest of the United States.
“I wanted to share my passion for reading with other kids, so I asked my daddy if I could open up my business,” Danay tells PEOPLE, adding that her father, Dwayne, asked her to prove she was serious about taking on such a major project.
“He said I had to invite all of his friends [on Facebook] to the fan page he made for me,” she recounts, citing her dad’s 4,000 friends, who she invited to ‘like’ her page, one-by-one. “It took me two days to do that.”
With the help of her family and team of over 40 volunteers (mostly comprised of kids), Danay, who reads two to three books per day in her spare time, cemented her literacy advocacy in 2014 with her very own non-profit named Reading Heart – all while still taking advanced classes at her elementary school.
“At first, the county denied her because of her age and then they called down to our capital to ask if there is a law or rule stating how young a person can be to open their business,” Dwayne Ferguson, a web programmer, tells PEOPLE. “And they said if the person you’re talking about looks like they’re capable of opening their business, then let them.”
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Since that day, Danay has worked hard to raise awareness of her non-profit’s mission by giving talks at school assemblies, meeting with city officials and hosting board meetings at kid-friendly eateries like McDonald’s.
“Her main line is, instead of, ‘I give you a book and keep it, how about you get a book and read it and then share the book with somebody else, and do it again?”’ says Ferguson, noting that “kids respond to other kids,” which is, arguably, the secret sauce for the honor student’s success. “She’s starting a movement on ‘I will give everybody books, but you have to read and share them.’ And she’s trying to do this worldwide.”
And if running a full-time business while still attending school wasn’t enough for the 8-year-old, Danay also hopes to break the Guinness World Record for most books collected in a 24-hour period on March 18th through the 19th. Danay has a goal of surpassing the current record (set at 274,325) with 500,000 donated books, which she is currently making possible with a speaking tour that spans 130 elementary schools encouraging kids to read and pass on 10 books.
Her dream is far from outlandish, however; thus far, Reading Heart has collected 90,000 books and given out over 20,000 books since its inception, having gifted used and new books to kids in schools, hospitals and in low-income areas.
The organization has also found a partner in publishing giant, Scholastic. The book company will be sending Reading Heart four new children’s books for every $5 donated through ReadingHeart.org prior to the event.
“It is the most amazing thing to be a part of,” Ferguson tells us. “My wife and I have to remember that we are her parents because we’re so in awe of her.”
Danay has clear goals for the future, having already enlisted younger sister Danyell, 6, to take over Reading Heart when Danay goes to college. As for what the California native wants to be when she grows up, the 8-year-old is quick to answer.
“I am what I want to be, now.”