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Kaitlyn Lengel is headed to New Orleans this summer to represent her school at the National Junior Beta Club Convention. It’s a fitting reward for a student who has a big heart for others and is willing to take steps to solve problems. Kaitlyn has autism, but that doesn’t define who she is.

“She will tell you that she doesn’t have special needs — she has certain needs, just like everyone else,” April Lengel, Kaitlyn’s mother, said. “She wants to look after everyone else. It breaks her heart to see anyone sad or hurting. Last year, she got upset when she saw kids coming out of the book fair crying because they couldn’t buy any books.”

Sharon-Marie Smith, Kaitlyn’s teacher at Fountain Inn Elementary School, said Kaitlyn is confident, eloquent and willing to help where there is a need.

“Kaitlyn came to us with the thought that a large number of the students in our community cannot afford books to read,” Smith said. “She then decided that she would encourage students, teachers and the Fountain Inn community to collect books so that each student could receive two books, at their reading level, to take home to read over the summer break. Kaitlyn has already collected a large number of books and has enlisted the help of the School Improvement Council to level and sort the books under her direction.”

Kaitlyn’s program, called “Today a Reader, Tomorrow a Leader,” has a goal of collecting 1,500 new or gently used books before the end of the school year.

“Whatever she can do to help people — she is always trying to find solutions to a problem,” April Lengel said. “She is very keen on … everybody else and making sure everyone is happy.”

Kaitlyn’s favorite…

Movie: “Dolphin Tale”

Food: Ribs, especially from Sticky Fingers

Things to do: camping, hiking and going to Camp Rock at Capstone Church

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