It’s the detours in life that can be much more rewarding than the well-planned route. Such was the case for one charter skipper who invited broker Ann Wallis-White to a fancy lunch after the Antigua Charter Yacht Show and instead found himself handing out books to needy schoolchildren. Today, there are a number of yachts and yacht crews who are giving back to the islands they love thanks to Wallis-White’s inspiration and example.
Yachting is something Wallis-White has known all of her life and so is a love of reading. “I was a charter child,” she says. “I was reading books before I could walk.”
Wallis-White booked her first charter while still in college. She was one of the first charter brokers, opening an office in Annapolis, Maryland, in 1976. “I was 23 years old and living on someone else’s boat so I could pay the rent for a waterfront office,” she explains. “Even then, I’d budget enough money to buy something each week to give away and it was usually a book.”
Trips to the Caribbean would inevitably bring Wallis-White to places where children owned few possessions. “I don’t like the idea of handing out money. That only solves the problem for a day,” she says. Instead, like seeds that can be planted to grow a garden full of food, Wallis-White started handing out books that she hoped would foster a love of reading and education.
Over the past 30-plus years, Wallis-White says she has “begged, borrowed and got donated” thousands of books that have been distributed to Antigua and other Caribbean islands such as Dominica, Bequia, Grenada, St. Vincent and Union Island. Libraries, which annually discard used books, have been a key source of donations. A dozen years ago, Wallis-White partnered with a nonprofit group called B.I.G. Books (Books for International Goodwill), which works to recycle books for the benefit of people as well as the environment.
Books boxed, there’s then the transportation. Yacht skippers who sail through Annapolis en route to the Caribbean will often be asked to transport a box or two of books and gladly do so. Over the past several years, Karen Kelly at Nicholson Yachts Newport has worked with Wallis-White and enlisted the help of skippers in her neck of the woods who are undertaking their annual north to south migration.
“Several yachts have really helped us over the years,” says Kelly. She has been on the other end of the transport too, that is, driving around Antigua in a rental car after the annual December charter show and looking for the smallest, poorest school where she could drop in and donate books.
“The children just love the books,” says Kelly. “It’s so incredible to see how happy it makes them.”
The ripple effect of Wallis-White’s good works is evident in the tales she tells. “I remember being out for my annual swim in Antigua and this little boy comes paddling out to me to tell me he loves books,” Wallis-White says.
Then, there was the Caribbean airport ticket manager who rescued Wallis-White from tears and a canceled flight home by producing a free first class ticket after recognizing her name. “He told me he never read a book as a child that didn’t have my name in the front,” she says. “I always write my name inside and something like ‘we love your island’.”
Last year, Wallis White was delivering needed items to an elderly shut-in friend in a bad neighborhood in Antigua. Three teenage boys walked up to her car and started tapping on the window. “I rolled down the window, not knowing what to expect, and they asked me if I had anything to read,” says Wallis-White.
Her generosity hasn’t been limited to books. She’s skipped more than one expensive lunch at show time and used the money to sponsor three boys into the Antigua Yacht Club’s sailing program. She used a $300 speaking honorarium to buy small toys and her annual show cocktail party to enlist friends to wrap the toys as Christmas presents for kids in Montserrat after the volcano erupted. And she took up a collection among the luxury yacht crews to get a dog that had been maimed in a machete attack to a local vet. “Lucky” ultimately survived.
The real story, says Wallis-White, isn’t about her or her book drive or what she’s done; it’s about how easy it is for anyone to perform a small act of kindness.
“I tell crews to take $100 and go to the dollar store and stock up on small items. I’ve been to schools where the kids are sharing pencils,” says Wallis-White. “A small amount of money or an hour or two of time is all it takes to make a huge difference in someone’s life.”
For more information or to contribute, contact Wallis-White at [email protected]