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Broken Spine, Torn Pages Help Fuel Teen’s Charity

RAY REYES, The Tampa Tribune
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(To go with AFP story by Isabelle Wessel

BRANDON, Fla. (AP) — He fixes spines, mends tears and restores missing pieces.

Ben Carpenter started this work when he was 12 and has refurbished a library’s worth of books during the past four years.

He has donated the restored books, about 4,200 in all, to assisted living facilities, schools, homeless shelters and other organizations through his nonprofit company, Ben’s Mends.

Carpenter, now 16, said his sense of civil service is inspired by two things: his parents and a congenital condition, spinal muscular atrophy, which causes muscle degeneration and weakness.

The medical care that has helped him lead a productive life drives him to give to others, he said. Carpenter is a volunteer for Junior Achievement, Shriners Hospitals and other groups but wanted a charity to call his own.

“I was thinking, ‘How can I bring something back to the community and combine it with my love of reading?'” said Carpenter, a King High School International Baccalaureate student. “It was just me and my parents, initially, repairing books.”

Once the nonprofit company was established, and a Girl Scout troop dropped off the first donation of three large bins bulging with books, the Carpenters hosted a family night with relatives chipping in to restore the books.

There are still about 1,000 damaged books stored in the Carpenters’ garage.

“I remember when we used to have a social life,” father Jim Carpenter joked in their Brandon home. “He’s a good kid. I think we’ll keep him.”

Ben’s Mends has grown, and Carpenter runs a club at King High where his classmates help fix books. Most of the donated items are textbooks that are falling apart but are needed for next year’s classes.

Carpenter and his friends patiently piece together spines and tattered covers, and take pages from books beyond repair and match them to missing pages in books that still can be used.

When he’s not fixing books, Carpenter said homework and volunteering keep him busy. His volunteer work was recognized by the Tampa Bay Lightning. At the home opener this season, the team donated $50,000 to Carpenter’s charity of choice, Junior Achievement.

He is also the captain of the Tampa Thunder, a power wheelchair soccer team, which has its sights set on a championship this season.

Power wheelchair soccer, he said, is a fierce contact sport. Players have a speed limit if they’re moving forward, but none if they go in reverse, he said. Collisions and crashes are common.

“I flipped once and got a concussion,” Carpenter said.

His mother Tari, a coach for the Thunder, said despite the injury, she’s happy her only child is a scholar and an athlete.

“We really did something right in raising him,” she said. “He really gets it.”

Carpenter, who plans to get a degree in mechanical engineering so he can design roller coasters, said he hopes to take Ben’s Mends with him to the University of Central Florida, his first choice for college.

“College kids have a lot of free time,” he said. “It’ll be a good place for Ben’s Mends, and I think it’ll really blossom there.”

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

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