August 9, 2012 in Washington Voices

Library comes to West Central for kids program

By The Spokesman-Review

Educators agree that summer reading is vital in order for children to maintain the progress they’ve made during the school year. For children in the West Central Neighborhood that proved difficult. The closest library branch is downtown, too far for most children to walk.

Last year the Spokane Public Library found an innovative solution – it brought the library to the children. “Each week we set up a minilibrary in the community center,” said Eva Silverstone, communications manager. “Volunteers help the kids check out books and keep track of their summer reading progress. We also hold special programs there – the same kids’ programs we hold at our branches.”

Funding from Altrusa International, a nonprofit organization focused on enhancing literacy, made the program possible. It was a resounding success, so organizers looked for a way to bring the program back.

This year a grant from the Fred Meyer Fund brought the library to the West Central Community Center. Silverstone said, “The Fred Meyer Fund also paid for the special programs at all branches this summer.”

On a recent Tuesday morning, the gym at the community center echoed with shouts of “Yes, ma’am!” as Holly Wilson from War Horse Karate introduced a large group of children to some martial arts basics.

Wilson said, “While they’re having fun, I’m teaching them about character and discipline.”

The first lesson they learned was to stand perfectly still and shout “Yes, ma’am!” when Wilson called for attention.

She explained that karate is used only for self-defense. “Is it ever OK to hit your sister or brother?” she asked.

“Nooo!” shouted the crowd.

“Who is it OK to hit?” asked Wilson.

One little boy waved his hand wildly. “Yes, sir?” she asked.

“Gangsters,” he replied.

By the end of the half-hour the children had learned about discipline, focus, self-control and respect – and they learned a few karate moves, too.

One boy summed up what he learned. “Only kick strangers.”

Close enough. More importantly, there was still plenty of time for reading. Program coordinator Lee Fowler brought out bins of books, and children grabbed their summer reading worksheets and scrambled to find something to read.

Within minutes the gym was dotted with clusters of kids reading. Some found a quiet spot and were soon engrossed in their selections. Others found a volunteer to read to them.

Volunteers are the heart of this summer reading program. Silverstone said, “The Altrusa volunteers had such a good time that they asked if they could help again this year.”

Janet Brougher is one of those returning helpers. She said, “I’ve really enjoyed it. One little guy I read with got to choose his free book. He was so excited!”

As 7-year-old Logan waited to pick up his summer reading worksheet, he reflected on what he’d learned from the martial arts program. “When I grow up, I’m going to be in the war, only now I’m not going to use weapons. I’m going to use karate, instead.”

Meanwhile David, 5, hefted a heavy Harry Potter book. “I hate small books,” he said. “I like big books ’cause I’m a big kid.”

The folks at the West Central Community Center have been pleased with the success of the initiative. Rick Harris, program manager, said, “I’d like to see this program every summer as long as there are kids in the building. It’s a great resource.”

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