With the Pawling Library closed due to the state-wide government response to Covid-19, Brian Avery, Library Director, has his team working behind the scenes in many ways and on many projects. “Since the time when we closed, the staff and I have been primarily focused on becoming a better library when we re-open. The part-time staff has been doing professional development courses via Universal Class (free to all library card holders) and the full-time staff has been doing a combination of professional development, projects that they had been wanting to tackle but never had the time to do, and planning programs,” Avery said.
Among the many projects, one is a real stand-out. Home Access Initiative was organized by Children’s Programming Coordinator Neena McBaer, who shared, “We really wanted to figure out how to reach families where they were: at home. Research shows the best way to improve the reading achievement of children is to increase their access to print books. Usually, we do this by checking books out to families. But right now, that’s not possible, so we had to adapt.” The project entails preparing packets for reading fun for every grade level, not just for the youngest members of our community, but for middle and high school students, as well. At the time of publication, 200 packets have been given to the Pawling Central School District for distribution and 66 to the Pawling Resource Center.
Mr. Avery also commented, “Neena was able to arrange with both the school system and the Pawling Resource Center to have these packets distributed to families with children.” Pawling Resource Director Terry Ariano remarked, “The Pawling Library’s project of putting together grade-specific packets of books is such a great thing. The families who are coming to the Pawling Resource Center for food during this time of need are thrilled to get these books for their children.” Mr. Avery continued, “This is an idea that…fulfills our desire to help community members at this time and to partner with the organizations who are facilitating this.”
Everyone agrees that this project would not have been possible without library trustees/volunteers Karen Franco, Wanda Rusiecki, and Karen Skilling, who really put in the work to make this happen. They volunteered much of their own time to make these bags a reality quickly. Ms. Franco offered, “With the library closed due to the executive order and the book sale on hold, we wanted to find a way to get books into children’s hands, especially when they are stuck at home.”
Each packet contains a craft and printed activities, regardless of grade level. The Young Adult Program Coordinator, Phil Prout, selected materials he hopes will appeal specifically to his audience. The younger children are also getting crayons. All packets include an age-appropriate handout or handouts. “The majority have, wonderfully, been translated into Spanish by library trustee, Karen Franco, which is a huge asset,” concluded Ms. McBaer. Each packet also includes two to three books, one of which is non-fiction and all of which have been curated to appeal to students in each age category.
Pawling Central School District Superintendent Kim Fontana was especially pleased to partner with the Pawling Library in making the Home Access Initiative available for district students, not only for its distinct educational value at a time when student connection to school has been disrupted, but because she also felt it clearly reaffirmed a warm community connection, which is especially prevalent in Pawling. When reached for comment, Ms. Fontana said, “The contribution of the Pawling Library, including the staff and volunteer time, to assist our students in receiving a book means so much not only to the students and the families, but to our staff members who are out each day making and delivering meals. Knowing that the whole community is helping to support our students is something we have come to count on, but never fail to appreciate. We are currently serving about 180 students school meals and today we are able to also provide gardening kits. I can’t wait for next week when we are able to give the students a present from the library. Even for young people, possibly especially for young people, the human kindness behind these gifts is like a sustaining song of hope and care. Thank you so much!”
Stephanie Mclaughlin, President of the Library’s Board of Trustees, added, “Many families in Pawling have donated to the effort, cleaning out bookshelves and dropping books off at the library and my home. I have a porch full of books from friends. The Pawling community has, once again, come through!”
Ms. Neena’s final thought seemed to resonate with all those who have participated in making this project come to life. “I miss all our families and patrons so much! Our staff is looking forward to the day we can reopen our doors and welcome Pawling back in. In the meantime, we hope programs like this can help keep families learning and playing at home.”
Information about available library services and closure updates may be found on the library website: pawlingfreelibrary.org