PEERLESS, Mont. – When Aiden Fouhy was 8 years old, he purchased and delivered more than 70 books to pediatric patients at St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings. That was five years ago. Today, Aiden’s book donation is an annual event. With his end-of-the-year delivery of 514 books, Aiden has donated more than 1,000 books since 2014.
It all started when Aiden, now 12, was given and sold a half dozen bottle calves by neighbors in the northeast Montana community of Peerless where his parents farm. Cattle prices were strong that year, and Aiden decided to make a charitable donation with a portion of the profits from the sale of his calves, said his mother, Cindy.
“Aiden loves books and reading,” she said. “He wanted to know if he could buy books and give them to sick and hurt children in the hospital.”
Each year since his first donation, Aiden has raised and sold bottle calves, using the money to buy and donate books and purchase registered Targhee ewes.
“His sheep are almost as big a passion as reading,” Fouhy said. “The sheep people have been beyond amazing.”
Aiden now has a number of National Sheep Improvement Program (NSIP) registered Targhee ewes with strong genetics from reputable Montana producers as well as a growing endeavor. He was the youngest consigner at the Miles City Ram Sale for the past two years.
The seventh grade book-loving Boy Scout and FFA member grew up believing he should give to others and giving books made sense.
“He understands the value of reading, and it’s a joy for him,” said St. Vincent Heathcare Nursing Director Vicki Birkeland. “He’s been able to turn around and share that love with families here.”
Aiden has an extensive library at home made up of his favorites – Hank the Cowdog, The Hobbit and The Call of the Wild to name a few – as well as thick histories of American sheep ranching and old journals.
Aiden uses his sheep money as well as in-kind and cash donations to purchase new books from Scholastic. For years he and his mother took books on the airplane when they flew to Billings. This year, Aiden had too many books for the tiny Cape Airplane, so he sent them with a family moving down to Billings and he and his mom flew.
Aiden would like to turn his venture into a non-profit to help attract donations and grants to reach his goal of giving 1,000 books annually. He also hopes to continue to grow his ewe flock to help fund the charity and pay for college.
St. Vincent’s staff gives out the books year round to children and families in the hospital to read and take home, Birkeland said. This year’s donation year focused on books for the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) Reading Program, which encourages parents of premature or sick babies to read to them.
“Often if the baby is very sick, parents aren’t able to do much for their baby, reading is nice way for them to do something,” Birkeland said. “We also know how valuable hearing the mother’s and father’s voices are for the baby.”
After parents achieve a certain reading goal, they are able to choose another book. Often, families leave the NICU with a good start on a home library for their new baby, she said.
“These families are getting comfortable with reading and talking to their child, which can be really difficult in a NICU situation,” she said. “Books are a nice way to help normalize the experience a little bit.”