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From classrooms to hospitals – A central Illinois teen spreads knowledge through her nonprofit

CHAMPAIGN — A central Illinois teen started a nonprofit that educates the youth. Now she’s taking things a step further by adapting a concept that one Princeton change agent helped start.

Sophia Libman is the founder and CEO of X-TIME.

“In math, I learned that x is kind of this value that’s constantly changing,” Libman explained. “And so, when coming up with X-TIME, I was like, ‘oh, all our activities are continuously changing.’”

X-TIME serves as a learning resource for children. Libman started the company during the pandemic when she was only in 8th grade. She said she was in the house reflecting on the days she participated in outside activities. Then she realized she wasn’t the only one missing out, so she tried to figure out a way to help other children engage in educational activities from home.

“And it kind of came to me and I shared it with my parents, and they were so supportive,” she said. “I talked to them. And then just from there, I kind of started my outreach, creating a website, which was all new to me. And just through the process, I’ve learned new steps about kind of how to set up a nonprofit.”

Libman’s brother helped her with the website, but she said there were other challenges.

“It was really hard to one recruit volunteers, just like the amount of outreach that was needed,” Libman said. “But then also kind of learn how to apply for X-TIME to be a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, because we’ve learned that a lot of people are almost more interested in helping if you are that 501(c)(3) nonprofit.”

X-PLORE Station at the Martens Center where Boys and Girls Club members attend each weekday. Lisa Libman

Libman started out by offering free online classes. She solicited teachers, professors, and businesses in the Champaign/Urbana area to help lead classes. Libman also received help from her classmates.

The online sessions continued for about a year and a half and from there the nonprofit began to offer in-person classes and summer camps. The classes took place at park districts, libraries, and community events. Libman then thought of something else.

“In my community, I started seeing so many Little Free Libraries pop up, actually. And I thought it was such a great resource filled with books,” she added. “And so, when I first started, I really had my heart set on having this standing structure with not only books, but other engaging educational materials.”

Rick Brooks, now of Princeton, Illinois and the late Todd Bol came together in Wisconsin in 2009 to create these book-sharing posts. You can now find them all over the globe.

Libman calls her renditions of this concept, X-PLORE Stations. These fixtures offer educational activities for children to explore. The first station opened at the Martens Center in Champaign. Libman said her goal is to reach underserved youth.

Libman meets with community organizations to keep herself up to speed in the nonprofit world.

“I’ve met with the CEO of the Community Foundation of East Central Illinois,” she said. “I’ve talked with some people from the United Way, a few local food banks, Habitat for Humanity. And then also I’ve had a lot of meetings with the University of Illinois, who have just been helping us a lot with kind of leading some of our in-person classes.”

Libman said during one of the meetings a suggestion came up for putting X-PLORE stations in hospitals.

Libman giving the donation to Shane Rafferty, a Patient Technology Specialist, at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago
Libman giving a donation to Shane Rafferty, a Patient Technology Specialist, at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. Provided by Sophia Libman

She visited Chicago’s Lurie Children’s hospital in December and provided X-TIME materials. Those X-PLORE stations are mobile. She said the mobility allows the stations to travel to and from different hospital rooms. She added that they are also easy to sanitize.

Libman’s idea has expanded from central Illinois to places like Ohio, New York, Indiana, and California.

“I had a chance to do a summer program where I met someone from California,” she said. “And so now he’s helping. A few of my friends moved on who live elsewhere. And so, they’ve come on board.”

Her goal is to have stations across all 50 states and perhaps across the world.

Libman is now a Junior in high school. College is on her mind, but she isn’t sure what she wants to major in. She said she is interested in social entrepreneurship. But whatever she chooses to study, she said she will continue to focus on X-Time throughout college and beyond.

Yvonne Boose is a current corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project. It’s a national service program that places talented journalists in local newsrooms like WNIJ. You can learn more about Report for America at wnij.org.

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