Hollis Cobb’s days growing up were bookended. He read each morning before school and snuggled in for family story time before bed.
“I can appreciate how important it was that we had access to books and parents who had time to read to us,” said Cobb, now a junior English major at the University of Mary Washington.
His high school teachers fueled his love of literature and desire to teach, so Cobb began coursework toward a master’s degree in UMW’s College of Education. But when he purchased a 1989 Ford ambulance – his other interest is restoring old cars – he turned a new page. With the help of the Mary Washington community, he launched Bookmobile Fredericksburg, partnering with organizations throughout the region to promote literacy to all ages.
“It’s such a pleasure seeing smiles from children who are excited to read,” said Cobb, who can often be found giving books away alongside his big yellow and blue library on wheels. “And their parents’ eyes light up when they discover our books are free.”
Service was an integral part of Cobb’s childhood – both his parents are ministers – but UMW gave him extra drive for getting involved. He studied abroad in Nepal as a freshman and became a Center for International Education peer advisor, Writing Center tutor and Student Alumni Ambassador.
He also rechartered The Aubade, UMW’s student literary magazine, growing the staff from two to two dozen. “It’s been incredible seeing an organization blossom like that.”
The same can be said of the Bookmobile. Cobb spent last summer cleaning, repairing and painting it for its Aug. 21 launch, and a team of students – Kate McDaid, Kiarnan Kaleshefski, Emily Rooksby and Norah Walsh – have helped him keep the bus running. Meanwhile, StartUpUMW taught him how to pitch investors, and the Center for Community Engagement connected him to volunteers. “It seems like the entire campus is supporting our work,” he said.
Including President Troy Paino, who praised Cobb’s ingenuity and entrepreneurship. “Tapping into one’s interests in the service of others is how our students are and will continue making a positive difference in this world,” Paino said.
Also on board are area schools, retirement communities and organizations like Downtown Greens, Thurman Brisben Center and Friends of the Central Rappahannock Regional Library. Many partners, including the Fred Nats and D.C. Divas women’s football team, have invited the Bookmobile to participate in their own events, while others have provided books and resources.
To steer the initiative in the right direction, Cobb researched similar projects across the nation, ultimately deciding to add a smaller used vehicle to his fleet with the purpose of reaching rural communities.
“We’re one of the few mobile libraries that operate independently, so we’ve relied on other avenues for funding,” he said. Financial donations can be made online or by mail, and those who want to donate books can schedule a porch pickup.
Cobb still plans to teach, but he’s keeping his options open. He can also see himself running the Bookmobile full time, he said, or letting someone else take the wheel. “For now, I’m just happy we’re bringing the joy of reading to the community.”
In other words – as he draws closer to earning a degree from Mary Washington – he’s ready to go wherever the road takes him.