First Lady Meets First Bookworm

Laura Bush was in town Wednesday in Biloxi, Mississippi, with the usual pomp and circumstance, tight security, and local dignitaries in evidence.

One thing wasn't so usual.

Sitting front and center in the VIP section was an 11-year-old girl.

Not just any girl, reports CBS News correspondent Steve Hartman: this was Kelsie Buckley, a guest of Mrs. Bush, who issued the invitation personally.

The first lady was in Biloxi to give out the first grants from her Laura Bush Foundation - money that will help restock school libraries devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

She was also in Mississippi to meet and thank Kelsie for her tireless work in raising money to help libraries damaged by Katrina.

"I just want to help," said Kelsie, when she first launched the project.

What was it about this effort which particularly caught the interest of the first lady?

"Well, of course it was because she loves books," said Mrs. Bush. "And she wanted schools to have books and libraries to have books. That's what I like to do. And when I was Kelsie's age, that was my favorite thing to do - read."

Kelsie – who is fighting a serious eye disease which could leave her blind - does love to read.

But she's also got a lot of presence, and was gracious and knew just what to say as she met the first lady.

"From everybody in Mississippi, all the kids I talk to," said Kelsie, "we love you as a first lady and my mom and dad voted for you."

Kelsie doesn't find it strange to be doing so much at such a young age.

No matter how old you are, says Kelsie on her web site, "we all can make a difference" and "enrich our lives by helping others."

By the time Kelsie was introduced to Mrs. Bush, she had already raised $79,000 - nine thousand dollars more than her original goal.

Before the day was over, there was more good news to be had.

"Kelsie, you moved me so much," Ann Moore, CEO of Time Inc., told the determined Gulf Coaster, "I'd like to make a $20,000 donation."

Pushing Kelsie's total up to a robust $99,000. But she's not about to quit.

No one who knows her could be surprised at that.

Kelsie has been in a philanthropic whirlwind for the past two years, since being diagnosed with an eye condition which has left her with vision in just one eye – and not the best vision in the remaining eye, either.

The fundraising began when she and her mom went to the library to get large print books – and found there were precious few – and no money at the library to pay for a more complete collection.

Figuring her problem was shared by many, Kelsie started raising money for libraries' large print collections, testified on Capitol Hill, and set up a fundraising web site and foundation.

Kelsie temporarily switched gears after the hurricane hit – focusing on rebuilding libraries after her family became one of the many who lost their home - but she remains committed to her original goal of helping vision-impaired readers.

There's a chance her own vision could improve over time, but the reverse prognosis is also a looming possibility. So Kelsie tries to read as many books as she can – now – and concentrates on enjoying the present instead of worrying about the future.

Every day, says Kelsie, she lives with the fact that she could lose all of her vision – and every day, she thanks God for the eyesight she has left.

"I cannot worry about the 'what ifs' or when."
  • Gina Pace

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