ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. – Well-known actor and former NFL player Terry Crews enjoyed his time with hundreds of young students Friday at three elementary schools in St. Louis County.

Crews paid a visit to Buder and Marion Elementary Schools in the Ritenour School District and Halls Ferry Elementary School in Florissant. He enjoyed spending time with fourth and fifth graders during assemblies at all three schools.

As part of the visits, Crews introduced his new children’s novel titled “Terry’s Crew.” The book digs into his childhood roots in Michigan and tells a story of how Crews overcame various challenges while growing up.

Friday’s visits come after an organized effort from The Noble Neighbor, a nonprofit wing of the Webster Groves book store The Novel Neighbor. The nonprofit connects with children’s book authors, like Crews, to coordinate in-person and virtual visits to schools that might be underserved and not regularly have an opportunity.”

“Our goal is to bring as many authors to systemically underserved schools as we can, and ensure every child receives a copy of the author’s book, in order to increase educational equity and literacy in our region,” said Dr. Andrea Scarpino, executive director of Noble Neighbor.

The nonprofit has planned many author visits, in-person and virtual, for historically underserved schools in the St. Louis region since 2019. In many cases, the Noble Neighbor works to acquire books for children to take home, rather than to pay for a copy.

“A couple years ago at the book store, they realized there are all of these kids in St. Louis who aren’t getting author visits,” said Scarpino. “That’s where the Noble Neighbor came about with helping to combat this educational inequity, by paying for all the books at a school so that the author would still be signed by the publisher to meet the kids.”

Before Crews published his book, The Noble Neighbor made a bid to not only bring him to St. Louis, but collect hundreds of books that could be donated to students. Crews agreed to visits in St. Louis and Minneapolis, and his publishing company offered 650 autographed books to donate among the three schools he visited Friday.

The Ritenour School District shared several photos of Crews interacting with students Friday and sending positive messages. He spoke about following their dreams and choosing to inspire people around them.

“It was a very special day for the kids, and I think it was really special for Terry too,” said Scarpino. “He was so great with the kids. He got emotional several times talking to them. I think he sees himself in some of the kids. He spoke from his heart.”

The students had some homework to do prior to the special visits, working with librarians and teachers to learn more about the book’s themes and setting up signs to welcome Crews.

“When I announced that Terry Crews was coming to Buder Elementary, the staff and students were elated,” said Dr. LaKisha Franks, Principal of Buder Elementary. “His visit aligns with our equity statement, to provide ‘opportunities for students to see their culture valued, integrated, and represented and the cultures of others valued, integrated, and represented.’”

Crews hopes to turn his first graphic novel into a series and is already working on a few other novels. Scarpino is hopeful he will return St. Louis again once his next works are published.

The Noble Neighbor hopes to donate 10,000 books and bring 50 authors to St. Louis schools by the end of the 2022-23 school year.