Community Hero: La Jollan Charlotte Perry strengthens connections through her love of children’s books

La Jolla resident Charlotte Perry has helped give thousands of books to local cancer patients to share with their children.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Longtime La Jolla resident Charlotte Perry has found a way to maintain her community ties long after retirement — by expanding the libraries of cancer patients and sharing her love of literature.

For 16 years, Perry has co-chaired the San Diego chapter of Light One Little Candle, a national nonprofit started in Connecticut in 2005 to donate books for children whose parents or caregivers are undergoing cancer treatment. The idea is to encourage them to bond by reading together.

The San Diego chapter, started by La Jollan Shirley Tulin, partners with Moores Cancer Center at UC San Diego.

Community Heroes logo
(Daniel K. Lew)

Patients can visit the Light One Little Candle book cart in Moores’ Patient Resource Center and take a book to read with a child or grandchild to “have some moments together,” Perry said.

Volunteers also wheel the cart around to offer books to those receiving treatment.

Books are donated through drives at local retirement communities, schools and philanthropic organizations or purchased using donated funds and grants Perry applies for.

Each book contains a bookmark Perry made to explain the nonprofit’s purpose.

Tulin retired a few years ago, and Perry continues to run the chapter with the help of local volunteers Julie Adams, Helen Elias, Patricia Freund and Reissa Schrager-Cole.

Perry became involved after retiring from her career as a children’s librarian in the Chula Vista Elementary School District.

She found through working with Light One Little Candle that offering books to others “is sort of a therapy,” connecting patients with volunteers in conversation.

Patients are “in there for several hours,” Perry said. “They would really appreciate somebody to sit down and chat with them about their grandkids or their kids or what they read when they were a little kid.”

The books range from board books for babies through elementary school-age novels, though Perry said Light One Little Candle is seeking more for the older end of that range.

Perry said she’s unsure how many books the San Diego chapter has distributed but estimates it’s in the thousands.

Clockwise from top left: Charlotte Perry, Reissa Schrager-Cole, Helen Elias and Julie Adams
Clockwise from top left: Charlotte Perry gathers with her fellow volunteers and friends Reissa Schrager-Cole, Helen Elias and Julie Adams.
(Provided by Charlotte Perry)

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when volunteers were prohibited from going to Moores Cancer Center, Perry focused on writing grant applications for more books and sending thank-you notes to donors.

Her work with Light One Little Candle keeps Perry surrounded by the books that shaped her career and “keeps me in touch with what’s current,” she said.

It also helps her share her love of reading as she encourages adults to cuddle with their children on their laps as they read together.

Perry also is involved with Altrusa International of San Diego, a community service nonprofit, and the Social Service League of La Jolla, a philanthropy group.

She said giving keeps her close to the community.

“I don’t have any children and I don’t have any family,” she said. “But I like to be involved. So I get involved in all these organizations because they’re kind of like my family. … I make friends in the different clubs.”

“I stay aboard for friendship and camaraderie,” she added. “And then [I’m] doing something good. … I would rather be in organizations that provide some good service to others.”

To donate to Light One Little Candle or to learn more, email

The La Jolla Light’s Community Heroes series for the holiday period highlights people who aren’t often in the news but make a difference in the lives of others.