For her Sweet 16 coming-of-age birthday party, Ashima Srivastava asked for Uno and Taboo, Connect Four and Blokus, chess, checkers and markers.
If some of those items sound a bit on the young side for someone eligible to obtain a driver's license when she turned 16 on Dec. 23, the northwest Columbus resident, a sophomore at Dublin Scioto High School, didn't want the presents for herself.
Ashima instead gave them to the children's section at the Northern Lights branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library, where she volunteers once a week in the Reading Buddies program.
"The kids were thrilled to receive the games and supplies from Ashima," Northern Lights branch manager Amanda Blackman said in a statement. "We all sang 'Happy Birthday' to her and many of the games got played with immediately that afternoon.
"It is so inspiring to see a teen so selfless, who not only gives the kids her birthday gifts, but also spends her time here each week, helping young minds build a strong foundation as they practice reading aloud to her during our Reading Buddies program."
"I feel like this is a library where not all the kids you meet have things," Ashima said.
"I think it's pretty amazing," said her mother, Shikha Srivastava, a software consultant. "Not every kid wants to do something like this for her 16th birthday."
"I really like younger kids and working with them," Ashima said.
Initially, Ashima sought to volunteer at the Northwest Library near where she lives, but she was told her willingness to be a Reading Buddy would be more helpful at the bustling Northern Lights branch at 4093 Cleveland Ave., which is heavily used by immigrant and refugee families in the Northland neighborhood. Many of those families have little or no mastery of English.
"It's been really neat to get to know another culture a little bit more," Ashima said. "In general, watching them read or learn a new word is really neat."
"She enjoys interacting with children," Shikha Srivastava said. "She enjoys the reading part of it. She does other volunteer programs over the summer, and again, she chooses to go with the youngest children."
Ashima's career hopes involve studying biomedical engineering, which applies engineering principles to medicine and health care, but she doesn't plan to leave behind what she loves.
"I know in the future I want to do something with kids," Ashima said.