In 2017, Harford County, Maryland has had more than 400 opioid overdoses, compared to 246 last year, 79 of those being fatal. We are not alone in this terrible epidemic that is affecting all parts of our communities. What can a public library do to support the community in the face of this epidemic? The answer came to me last year after reading The Seventh Wish by Kate Messner—create a conversation starter based on the community reading this relevant book.
In thinking about a way to talk about and tackle this widespread opioid addiction problem in our community, I proposed a program in which all of the branches of the Harford County Public Library would hold book discussions aimed at middle school students and their parents. The Seventh Wish by Kate Messner features Charlie, a 12-year- old girl who catches a magical fish that grants her wishes. Charlie’s sister returns from college struggling with addiction, and Charlie wonders if wishes are the best way to tackle challenges. Soon, the Marketing Department, Children’s and Teen Coordinator, Foundation Director, Public Services Administrator, COO and CEO, Mary Hastler, were involved and the concept grew even bigger. In order to create excitement and community engagement, our team decided to invite the author for an evening of conversation and involve community partners also working on this issue.
To this end, community partners were approached for project support, with the goal to build awareness of the heroin epidemic and to reduce use, overdoses and deaths. The headlining sponsor was Healthy Harford/Healthy Cecil, and the supporting sponsor was the Harford County Department of Community Services Office of Drug Control. The library also collaborated with many community partners, including Harford County Public Schools, Boys & Girls Clubs of Harford County and The Albert P. Close Foundation, and the University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Hospital who offered advice and resources to post on our webpage. On the evening of the author visit, the H.O.P.E. House (Heroin Overdose Prevention Effort) a mobile educational tool designed to raise awareness and inform parents of the warning signs of controlled dangerous substance use and/or abuse parked in the library lot. Inside the converted RV, parents learned about signs that may indicate a loved one is abusing heroin or other drugs.
Once the partners were in place, branches held book discussion from September to November at all eleven sites of Harford County Public Library. Free copies of the book with discussion questions were available to participants and each middle school in the county received copies. The library created a webpage with addiction resources as well as two sets of The Seventh Wish book discussion kits which are available for checkout.
Finally, on November 8, 2017, Kate Messner, along with event partners, joined the community in conversation at the Abingdon Library. At the big event, Messner talked about the book and the inspiration for the idea to write this particular story. Messner, is an award-winning author who received the 2010 E.B. White Read Aloud Award for Older Readers for her book, The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. Her books have also been recognized as New York Times Notable, Junior Library Guild, IndieBound and Bank Street College of Education Best Book selections. She was a middle school teacher for 15 years and earned National Board Certification. After her engaging presentation, Library CEO, Mary Hastler, and Carol Frontera, president of The Albert P. Close Foundation, which provides resources to Harford County’s at-risk youth, moderated the discussion with the audience. It was an engaging and lively presentation that attracted 90 participants, including middle schoolers, their parents and other adults. In addition, the library gave away 250 copies of The Seventh Wish.
The Harford County Public Library was pleased to set the stage for this very important community project though book discussions and the November 8th event. They will continue to support the schools, Office of Drug Control, Community Services and the Sherriff’s Office in their efforts to create awareness and eradicate opioid addiction in our community.
Contributed by Jackie Cassidy, Children’s Librarian, and Daria Parry, COO, Harford County Public Library, Maryland. Jackie is also the co-chair of the Building Partnerships Committee.