Library outreach embraces homeless families
Youth Services Librarian Katherine Assink recently was reading Go Away, Big Green Monster! to a group of kids, and they were loving it. The colorful, interactive storybook—about a big green monster who gets bigger and scarier with each turn of the page—encourages kids to deal with their fear by facing it. During the second half of the book, the kids make the monster disappear, bit by bit, by telling it to go away.
“Some of the kids got so excited they started running around the room yelling ‘go away!’” said Assink. “It was great to see them have such joy and enthusiasm for the story.”
Most kids need a little help dealing with fears, but this group, perhaps, needs more than most; the children at this story time were all living in temporary housing provided by the homeless-serving agency Family Promise of Greater Cleveland.
In 2015, staff at Heights Libraries’ Coventry Village branch set a goal to provide services to underserved populations in non-traditional settings, including homeless and transient people living in temporary housing. That led staff members to Thea Mozingo, coordinator of volunteer engagement and supportive services at Family Promise.
“We were contacted by a librarian at the Coventry branch because they were interested in hosting story times for our families at a Heights location,” recalled Mozingo. “In the past, our families rotated between local congregations who would host them overnight. We were no longer doing that model, and all of our families were staying in a static location.”
The library agreed that if it could partner with a Heights organization, it could bring story time to the Family Promise building on Kinsman Avenue in Cleveland. Forest Hill Presbyterian agreed to partner with the library. It provides snacks, while library staff bring songs, books and crafts. They also give the families, many of whom are from the Heights area, backpacks containing literacy information, coloring pages, and books.
The visits occur once a quarter, with plans to increase the number of visits in the near future.
“The adverse effects of homelessness on learning and literacy for children is well documented,” said Assink. “But in cases where children and families are given access to these kinds of resources, the children do much better.”
Mozingo agrees. “Living in a shelter can be stressful and story time allows them to just be kids,” she commented. “The story times are fun for the children and the parents, too. Oftentimes, the parents are enjoying the books, singing the songs and doing the crafts right alongside their children.”
In recent years, Heights Libraries has been focused on expanding services beyond its four buildings—an intention reflected in its new slogan, “Here for you, wherever you are.”
“Not everyone can get to our buildings, so we’re finding more and more ways to bring our services to them,” said Heights Libraries Director Nancy Levin. “That can mean online services that people access from home, or it can mean a visit from a staff member at an offsite location like a school, a retirement home, or even a shelter.”
“We are grateful for the librarians’ time and support,” said Mozingo. “They are able to create a fun space here in the shelter, where families can just enjoy time together as a family.”
Sheryl Banks is the communications manager for the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Public Library System.