He’s not the biggest reader, but Joey Alisch, 15, doesn’t mind collecting books. From picture books and novels, to encyclopedias and textbooks, the books aren’t for him to keep. With the help of loved ones, he ships them to the Philippines, and then visits the country to help stock school libraries in poverty-stricken areas.
Joey, a sophomore at Bishop Hendricken, made his seventh and most recent trip to the Philippines in November. Since he began the cause, he has collected and distributed at least 10,000 books.
While he is a young man of few words, Alisch said it makes him happy to make contributions year after year.
“I can’t really describe the feeling – it just feels good to help people,” he said last week in the kitchen of his family’s Cove Avenue home. “It’s one of those indescribable things.”
But it’s easy to describe Alisch. For starters, it’s clear that he’s kindhearted and generous, and even a bit shy. He’s also intelligent, and humble.
Mayor Scott Avedisian used the word, “amazing.”
“The outreach of Joey Alisch is exactly the type of story that we need to hear,” said Avedisian, who has traveled throughout different parts of the Philippines, and has seen the poverty firsthand. “His advocacy for those less fortunate in the Philippines is amazing. I am sure that Joey's efforts are raising the quality of life for many students. Ten-thousand books is an amazing accomplishment, and I am happy to offer the city's congratulations to him.”
About two years ago, former Ward 3 Councilwoman Helen Taylor arranged for Alisch to receive a citation from the city for being Warwick’s youngest philanthropist, and just a few months ago, the Department of Education issued him a certificate of appreciation. He has the citations framed and hung in his home. Also, three schools he visited named their libraries after him.
Still, the praise doesn’t go to his head. When a Warwick Beacon reporter told him he’s “awesome,” he smiled and shrugged his shoulders. He’s more focused on helping than received compliments and accolades.
Additionally, witnessing the level of poverty in certain areas of the Philippines serves as a reminder for how fortunate he is.
“You can drive around our neighborhood and see how everything is nice and in order, but over there it’s completely a mess,” he said. “The infrastructure is pretty bad. You would literally see people sleeping on the streets.”
Schools that benefited from his donations include B. Del Mundo Elementary School, Libertad Elementary School and Bait Elementary School. He remembers how grateful students, teachers and staff were to receive the books.
“They just thank you for everything,” Alisch said.
His mother, Alma, elaborated, “They were really touched. One of the teachers was crying.”
So, how did Alisch get interested in donating books in the first place?
In second grade, he saw an advertisement on the Disney Channel for the Disney Adventure All-Star program, which encourages children to take part in acts of charity. He asked Alma, as well as his father, Steven, if he could join the cause.
Alma suggested they collect and donate blankets for the local homeless instead, but Joey, who is half Filipino, was adamant about helping the Philippines.
As a result, they journeyed to the Philippines, where they purchased various hygiene items, such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, and donated the products to an orphanage and a school in need.
“When we went to this island called Mindoro, we went to the school that my cousin goes to and it had this room for the library, but the room was empty,” Joey said. “That was when I first thought, ‘maybe we should be donating books,’ and from that point on we started donating books.”
Through the years, the Warwick Public Library donated books, as did St. Francis of Assisi School, and St. Matthew’s School, two parochial schools that closed a few years ago. St. Francis, where Joey attended school from kindergarten to sixth grade – he went to St. Rose of Lima for junior high before making his way to Hendricken – hosted a May Breakfast to raise funds to cover the costs of shipping the books. Alma said it costs about $100 to ship one box.
To keep the generosity going, a spring breakfast buffet will be held at Dave’s Bar and Grill April 28 beginning at 8 a.m. Tickets are $10 each and can be purchased through Alma by calling 996-1411. Then, Joey and his family will mail the books, and make another trip to distribute them.
“It’s something that has become a part of our life,” Alma said. “During the school year, we focus on what we have to get done, and around summertime, we focus on fundraising, and collecting the books.”
Joey visited the country for the first time when he was 8 months old. Alma grew up there, and relocated to Rhode Island when she was 24 to study Human Science at the University of Rhode Island. She said she was lucky growing up – her father was, and still is, a doctor.
Aside from donating books, they enjoy visiting her father. They make it a family affair, always bringing Joey’s younger brother Billy, who has cerebral palsy.
But bringing Billy along poses a frightening challenge: he needs a Baclofen Pump, a medical device used to deliver small quantities of medications directly to the spinal fluid, with him at all times. The issue, said Alma, is that only a few places have the pump, including the United States, Europe and Japan.
“We had no choice,” she said. “If something happened, we could have gone to Japan, but thank God nothing happened. That’s why we only stay for two weeks – he needs a refill every two weeks.”
But because her father and a few of her siblings are physicians, she is hoping to introduce the device to the Philippines. She isn’t keen about taking the risk of him running out of medication so far from home.
“We really took a big chance,” she said. “We’re hoping to bring this kind of medication to the Philippines.”
Learn more about their adventures at http://youtu.be/CQF2r8gYXyg.