Back in October of 2015, our Youth Services Department realized that we were missing a connection with families residing in a local housing authority. We contacted the housing authority and asked if we could create a weekly program for children birth-age five and their caregivers. After a few months of hashing out details, we were able to get started. Play, Learn & Grow is set up in a multi-purpose room connected to the leasing office on the property. Initially, we simply wanted to make contact with these families and introduce them to all the wonderful things the library had to offer.
We start our program off as a large group enjoying breakfast and coffee. After eating we transition into an interactive storytime that includes plenty of music, rhymes and felt board stories. After storytime, participants move to interactive stations that reinforce early learning skills.
As we started working with our new families, we discovered that lack of transportation was the primary reason we weren’t seeing these children at the main library. In addition to not being able to get to the library, we learned that caregivers were also having difficulty getting connected to other essential services in the community; services such as: healthcare, grocery stores/food pantries and preschool. Throughout the last two years, the library and AMHA (Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority) have partnered and worked hard to create solutions to help eliminate barriers. Thanks to a variety of collaborations, participants of Play, Learn and Grow are able to: talk with a social worker, meet other moms in the community, interact with Kindergarten teachers from the local school district, connect with a counselor in a maternal depression therapy session, receive resume advice/career coaching from an adult services librarian and spend time playing with their child as they explore fun toys and wonderful books.
Our program started over two years ago. Thanks to some incredible grant funding, beginning this fall participants will receive 16 picture books throughout the year, as well as a total of eight felt board stories and felt board to use in their home. In addition, the funding has allowed us to purchase laptops, a printer, and mobile hotspot to create a “Career Pathways Mobile Computer Lab” for parents to use.
Play, Learn & Grow has grown into a program that goes beyond songs and stories. It’s not always neat and organized; in fact it’s often unpredictable and lively. We never know how many children to expect, and we have a variety of ages…ranging from tiny newborn babies to super confident-“I can’t wait for Kindergarten, Miss Katie” Pre-K kids. More than anything, this program reminds me on a weekly basis what it means to be a public librarian. It might not always be as easy as finding a DVD or putting an item on hold, sometimes it’s digging a little deeper. As librarians we have an opportunity to be connectors in our community: not just helping individuals and families connect to the information and materials they want, but helping them connect to the services and assistance they need.