Guest Blogger

Children In Crisis

REFORMA (The National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-Speaking) and ALSC (Association for Library Service to Children) have worked together for years, so it’s no surprise that their combined efforts have been so successful in addressing the reading needs of children, especially migrant children.  When unaccompanied minors began arriving at the U.S. border from Central America in 2014, our goal was to provide some sort of assistance. And what better way than to share books in the language of the arriving children.

During the REFORMA Membership Meeting at the ALA conference in Las Vegas in 2014, Lucia Gonzalez and Oralia Garza de Cortes proposed establishing a project that would address the needs of the arriving children. Within days a task force was established and the work began to explore what could be done.  The task force contacted ALA’s government relations office and was put in contact with representatives of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to see what sorts of donations could be accepted. While initially REFORMA had hoped to provide backpacks filled with books and supplies, CBP was only allowing books and/or blankets. We began to reach out to other groups like International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) ALSC, YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association), as well as publishers, authors and individuals and began gathering books. We also came up with a bookplate, and later an IBBY bookmark that we add to the books. 

Photo courtesy of REFORMA’s Children in Crisis project

Once in contact with CBP in McAllen, Texas the REFORMA President, Silvia Cisneros, flew from California to Texas to meet with the Border Patrol and donate the books. She also met with Sister Norma at her shelter and with others in the region to complete the donation. We realized at this point that we didn’t understand the border situation as well as would be required. Together REFORMA and IBBY volunteers
(U.S., Mexico, Canada) coordinated a donation/orientation trip to the Brownsville/McAllen area to see for ourselves how we could help. We met with CBP, Sister Norma, a Southwest Key shelter, an immigrant
legal group, ProBar, and the Brownsville Public Library to better understand the support we could provide.

With a better understanding of how we could impact the lives of the children and families arriving at the border we set to work to broaden our network. Since those early days we have expanded our efforts on a number of fronts.  We solicited donations of Spanish and bilingual Spanish/English books from authors, publishers, distributors, bookstores, etc. and we were again surprised at how generous everyone was. We also solicited donations from organizations such as IBBY and ALSC which were two of our early donors in 2015/2016.  These financial donations made a huge impact on the program. Those two entities, along with USBBY, OneBook, many of the REFORMA Chapters, and so many individual donors have kept us going strong.  Recently, we were awarded another very generous donation from ALSC which has provided us with the support to continue and expand our efforts as the number of children crossing the border continues to call for our support.

Photo courtesy of REFORMA’s Children in Crisis project
Photo courtesy of REFORMA’s Children in Crisis project

We have been fortunate to encounter a number of organizations that provide even more support than books.  Team Brownsville and Team San Antonio in Texas along with Jugamosaleer in Tijuana and Reformistas in various states have connected us with the need and we send them books regularly.  New shelters continue to crop up around the country and we work to connect them with our free books.  If you are aware of a shelter in your region, please share that information with us so we can reach out. We also work with non-profit organizations such as Jewish Family Services, and Catholic Charities as well as legal and social service agencies which are serving the kids.  Some groups meet the children and their families at the bus station after they have been released and share food, clothing and yes, the REFORMA/ALSC books.  Other groups work with the kids and their instructors in the shelters through their local library.  Additionally, we have connected with Post Release Service Groups that check in on the kids after they are either reunited with family or are placed with a sponsor family.  In all of these situations REFORMA, with the help of ALSC and others, is able to ship for free Spanish and bilingual Spanish/English books to the children as they address the trauma that has brought them to our country.

For those interested in getting involved with REFORMA’s Children in Crisis project, please drop a note to cic@reforma.org and thank you for taking the time to read our post.


Today’s guest contributor is Patrick Sullivan. Patrick is a retired San Diego State University academic librarian who has been with REFORMA’s Children in Crisis Project since 2014.  Together with other REFORMA librarians who support the project Patrick connects shelters and social service agencies with books and library information for the arriving youth and their families.

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

2 comments

  1. Informatika

    How does the Children in Crisis project align with the broader missions and values of REFORMA and ALSC in promoting library and information services, particularly to underserved communities such as Latino and Spanish-speaking children and families?

    1. CIC

      REFORMA’s Children in Crisis project (CIC) was created to address the values and mission of both REFORMA and ALSC, specifically as they relate to the families and children arriving to our southern border from Central America. We’ve seen situations where busses carrying the families from the border have been confronted by angry individuals telling them to go home. CIC and our partners at the border have been a counterbalance to those forces by offering food, clothing, Spanish language books and library information. These children and families arrive with little or no support and our goal at CIC is to make sure there are welcoming faces at the bus stations, shelters, immigration centers, etc. Both REFORMA and ALSC have been supporting these underserved communities as they arrive, during their detention and after their placement through a wide network of partners. The arriving children, their families and our partners working at the border greatly appreciate all that ALA, ALSC, REFORMA and individual donors have done to make life a little easier and more welcoming for them.

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