In a district-wide project, New Haven middle school students have collected over 17,000 books to donate to 11 philanthropic organizations across Connecticut, far exceeding their goal of gathering 5,000 volumes.

The project, which started last December, was a collaboration between the New Haven Public School district’s Middle Schools Student Cabinet and Rain of Hope, a nonprofit which runs community building after-school programs for children in New Haven and Hamden.

Students from 21 schools contributed to the initiative, which will bolster the resources of shelters, hospitals and educational facilities statewide. Among the organizations which benefited are the Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital, the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford and New Reach shelters in New Haven.

In December, teachers at New Haven’s King-Robinson Interdistrict Magnet School partnered with Rain of Hope to develop a project to light the spirits of disadvantaged students during the winter holiday season.

“The holiday period is often difficult for our kids,” said Michael Youngman, a teacher at King-Robinson involved in the venture and the district’s facilitator of middle school leadership. “We were trying to take the focus away from the holiday.”

In his role as facilitator, Youngman brings together student leaders in middle schools across the school district.

For Youngman, this project represented a rare opportunity for middle school students to meaningfully give back to their community. He added that it is sometimes difficult for these students to find avenues to engage in service, because many organizations do not accept students of this age as volunteers.

Jennifer Ricker, founder and director of Rain of Hope, said she was enthusiastic about this opportunity to involve students with their surroundings.

“We want to create communities by teaching [children] how their actions can change the world,” Ricker said, citing the importance of improving literacy in the community by making books available to children. Ricker underscored that children who have access to books in their early years display higher proficiency levels in reading and writing later in life.

After the success of the program at King-Robinson, school representatives and Rain of Hope administrators decided to expand the project to the entire district to involve as many children as possible. However, even its coordinators were surprised with the end result.

Latrice Hampton, NHPS assistant to the director of communications, said she was not so surprised.

“It didn’t come as a shock at all,” Hampton said. “I understand the capacity of community involvement.”

She added that collaborative efforts such as this were vital to teaching young students to think about the needs of others in their community.

Of the 48 New Haven Public Schools, 32 are elementary and middle schools.