Speaking to Nicola Smith-Kea, or "Nikki" is like a reunion with an old friend. Nikki has clearly never met a stranger, and enjoys making connections and establishing and maintaining relationships. She is a part of an informal group of alumni from the University of the West Indies, who were getting together primarily to socialize when Nikki suggested that perhaps they could also use their network to raise funds in support of worthwhile charities in Jamaica.
Enter Reading Owls International, which was suggested by board member Peter Edwards. Nikki contacted founder Elaine Dickson and was impressed by the group’s focus. She said, “I love what Reading Owls was doing and committed myself to helping consistently and in a meaningful way. As an educator, having lectured at the University of the West Indies and the University of Maryland, and as a parent of a young and intellectually curious boy, I recognize the value of reading and the importance of providing books to facilitate a desire to read."
Nikki reflects on her childhood, and how her parents and grandparents instilled, by example, the ethic of giving into her and her siblings. She remembers her grandfather, a butcher in his small community, sharing food with others all the time, an act she later modeled. "We had little to no toys growing up in Manchester, Jamaica. Despite our own struggles however, we gave to others each Christmas from the little we had."
Nikki now requires the same from her network of friends. Whenever Reading Owls sends an email about an impending book drive or fundraiser, Nikki first fulfills the commitment she made to herself by contributing, then she forwards the email to her network and encourages them to give. In this way, Nikki the relationship builder, or the “connector” as her friends teasingly call her, uses her special skills to raise funds for a cause she believes in. Unsurprisingly, she intends to maintain and strengthen her connection to the organization, and looks forward to a time when she can be an even more active participant of the Reading Owls family.