Editor’s note: Since September 2015, Worcester Sun has chronicled the trials and triumphs of Sun contributor Giselle Rivera-Flores as she explores ways to help her daughter and other Worcester families find affordable educational support and assistance. We used to describe her as an aspiring business owner; now, she’s an inspiring one. During her journey to establish and grow her nonprofit tutoring collaborative she has, you could say, stepped beyond the walls of her dream.
Last Sunday, Aug. 13, The Learning Hub, in partnership with Action! Worcester, launched a much-requested campaign: Little Free Libraries.
One of the most successful ways to improve the reading achievement of children is to increase their access to books, especially at home, according to a 2010 study from University of Tennessee, Knoxville, faculty members Richard Allington and Anne McGill-Franzen. However, according to the U.S. Department of Education, up to 61 percent of low-income families do not have books for children at home.
In Massachusetts, where 43 percent of children are not reading where they should be by the third grade, the concept of literacy accessibility should be a priority. This is especially true in Worcester, where a lack of proficiency in literacy is coupled with financial hardship, language barriers and a lack of cultural services.
Read Giselle’s previous chapter, The sincerest form of thievery, or scroll down to explore more of her story.
For a year, The Learning Hub attempted to launch the Little Free Libraries campaign to spark social change in Worcester and to solve the lack of book accessibility in several communities. However, our two Kickstarter campaigns were unsuccessful.
Without engaging the community in a conversation about literacy and the importance of community involvement, The Learning Hub faced the end of the road in its attempt to bring the national organization, Little Free Libraries, to Worcester. The Hub operated under the theory that force-feeding literacy would ignite social change, but as statistics show, involvement of the community and its leaders is essential to running a successful social-change initiative.
In 2010, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie; Cory Booker, who was then mayor of Newark, N.J.; and Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, appeared together on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” to announce an ambitious reform plan for Newark Public Schools. Zuckerberg pledged a $100 million matching grant to support the goal of making Newark a model for how to turn around a failing school system.
This announcement was the first time most Newark residents heard about the initiative, according to Community Engagement Matters, an article published by the Stanford Social Innovation Review. According to the article, the reason the campaign never fully launched was because of the public outcry denouncing its lack of community engagement and recognition of the people’s needs.
Social change must be approached as any other business idea. Research, consumer feedback and climate behavior are major parts of what is needed to bring about social change and a successful business concept.
After a year’s worth of networking with community leaders, business owners and families, the placement of the first Little Free Library at C.C. Lowell – The Hub’s new headquarters – ignited the response we were looking for last year.
Our network of community leaders has embraced our mission to put books in the hands of thousands of children by the end of 2018. Not only did we listen to the community about its want for more access to books, but we involved the community directly with the project. We are commissioning artists, children’s programs and adult learning programs to personalize and customize each Little Free Library with artistic expression to beautify the city’s landscape and empower the community.
While the first images of the Little Free Library at C.C. Lowell may have confirmed the importance of such a free and open initiative to combat Worcester’s literacy problems, it was the behind-the-scenes communication with the community and listening to their needs that solidified our mission.
Since last Sunday, we have received an overwhelming response from the community, business owners, community leaders and institutions in Worcester. All have reached out to participate and sponsor new Little Free libraries and discuss expansion, volunteership and an extended list of collaborative opportunities. Recent sponsors, donating a total of $200 per Little Free Library and multiple libraries at once, include: the United Way of Central Mass., WooBerry, Live Action Escapes, Elite Dental Care of Westboro, Escape Rooms Worcester and several independent donors.
In just two days we received enough money to launch an additional 12 Little Free Libraries.
Friends from all over the country are reaching out to help, and local institutions like Seven Hills Foundation have opened the doors for collaborations, sponsorships and long-term goals of improving literacy and STEAM learning. With the help of John Monfredo of Worcester: The City that Reads, the goal of placing books in the hands of children and adults has become a reality.
Placing one Little Free Library may help a few children and families in a neighborhood, but placing them throughout the city ensures that we leave no community behind and that we cover the areas most impacted by a lack of books The Worcester Public Library, while it serves neighborhoods with its mobile library, can use a program that can complement its mission. That is our Little Free Library initiative.
Follow Giselle’s inspiring story from the beginning: