When he was a senior at Gustine High School, Zachery Ramos started the Central Valley Traveling Library. Since that time, he has given out more than 5,000 free books to underprivileged children from newborns through high school and his outreach has stretched beyond Merced County throughout California.
Ramos, 20, has been a lifelong Gustine resident and without a doubt is more than busy these days. A full-time junior college student who also has three jobs and serves on two commissions, Ramos has high aspirations for his life — someday he wants to be president.
During a three-year period, Ramos figures he has traveled more than 5,000 miles in a 2000 Honda Accord four-door sedan, giving out books in San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, Monterey, Santa Cruz, Merced, Modesto, Oakdale, Turlock, Davis, Stockton and Sacramento.
"I love seeing smiles on the kids' faces," Ramos says. "It lights a fire to keep on going. I see kids so ecstatic and I see their parents excited, too. It makes me happy."
Ramos does about five book distributions a month, mostly at public events. He goes to events he sees on Facebook and social media. He also has started giving out books at school assemblies, including one Nov. 7 at Gustine Elementary School.
When children see Ramos' booth they excitedly run up to it, initially expecting to get candy. But the youngsters' zeal doesn't wane when they see it isn't a toy or
candy but a simple paperback book they can have for the asking.
The Traveling Library first started out with stacks of books arranged on an old ice cream cart, a portable two-wheeler. About 20 percent of the books are donated and Ramos buys the rest out of pocket.
"My generation gets a lot of flak for not being too motivated or ambitious. I am part of a group that wants to say we are not at all like that," Ramos says. "I should be able to do it and can't count on others to do it for me."
In his second year at Modesto Junior College with a major in political science and a minor in business, he hopes to graduate by 2022 and plans to go to California State University, Stanislaus in Turlock, again majoring in political science.
Ramos' ultimate goal is to get elected to public office. He plans to start locally as a city councilman or mayor and then go from there, advancing to the state Assembly and maybe the U.S. Senate.
He stresses he is serious about ultimately running for president. "It's not just an idle wish. I am very serious."
Last year Ramos ran for Mayor of Gustine and received about a third of the vote. He said it was a fun effort, earning him the distinction at the time of being the youngest Portuguese-American politician.
Ramos classifies himself as an Independent, a moderate with a mix of beliefs ranging from JFK to Ronald Reagan. He says he has allies in both political parties.
Along with MJC, Ramos has three jobs. He's an executive assistant and lobbyist for Wild Game Jerky in Merced, a recreation leader for the City of Modesto and is planning to start his own marketing company next January in Gustine.
Conceding his schedule is very active, Ramos says besides his studies, the three jobs take about 24 hours a month. This year he helped start the Gustine Downtown Association and is keen on promoting local "mom and pop" businesses locally.
It doesn't end there. Ramos also is a member of the Gustine Unified School District's Health and Wellness Committee and a member of the Merced County Library Advisory Board.
The Central Valley Traveling Library is an all-volunteer, unpaid effort. Ramos does have one staff member who helps with calendar arrangements. There are about 50 people and businesses who are always ready to help him out.
Ramos says his love for reading started at an early age. His father Samuel Ramos came to the United States from the Azores at a young age and had his son help him with the English language.
"When I was growing up, he would ask for my help in writing things down and spelling things. Ever since I could read and talk, my father and I connected. It ignited a desire to read and help others with reading as well. When time allows, I still like to read," Ramos says.
Mysteries, science-fiction novels, history and political science subjects are his favorites.
The Merced County Board of Supervisors named Ramos its 2019 Volunteer of the Year for his book donation efforts. He also received the Daily Point of Light Award from the late President George H.W. Bush. He also received a Gold Medal Award for volunteer service from President Donald Trump and earned the Young Portuguese-American Promesa Award from the Portuguese American Leadership Council of the U.S.
"If people want to help it is always greatly appreciated. The more we are helped the more we can do these events for the kids," Ramos says. ■
Ramos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org