On a wall inside a newly refurbished community center in Kensington are a series of signposts.
Narnia, reads one. The others: Oz, Mt. Olympus, Hogwarts, Wonderland, the Magic Tree House. Nearby, a first-grader walks around with a copy of Dr. Seuss’s ABC, heading to the back of a line of children—more than 20 deep— eagerly waiting to sign out their books. Some are showing friends what they found; others are nose-deep reading before they’ve even finished checking out.
At the head of the line, two students in Temple’s Department of Nursing are the librarians for this day, the library’s opening. In the few weeks prior, they and their classmates have also been painters, builders and planners. Today, though, they are enjoying the fruits of weeks of hard work, as students from a nearby school discover the litany of literary works now available to them.
On Monday, April 16, school children from John H. Webster Elementary School in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia were welcomed into a new library across the street. Housed in a former community center that’s laid vacant for years, the new community library was created through a collaboration between students in the Bachelor of Science in Nursing program, the staff and parishioners from Open Door Ministries at the Assembly of God church, and members of the community.
It may not fit what many people think of as “nursing,” but there is a strong connection between this community work and students’ future careers.
“It’s good for them to learn that, in an age of instant gratification where everything is available at your fingertips, this is something that many children do not have access to at all,” said Laura Rauth, instructor in the Department of Nursing, who teaches the class that connected the students with this community. “It teaches them that, even at your age, you can make a difference, and it doesn’t always happen just like that.”
The work with Webster is part of the nursing program’s new “Community Home” curriculum, in which BSN students are immersed in a Philadelphia neighborhood beginning in their sophomore year and lasting until they graduate. In addition to opening the library, the students assigned to this community teach health classes at Webster every Monday and assist with a soup kitchen through Open Door Ministries; on Wednesdays, a second group of students teaches health classes and is working with the church on building a community garden. Due to budget constraints, Webster no longer offers dedicated health classes to its students, so the sessions with the nursing students, which cover topics such as pedestrian safety and bike safety, are the only formal health education they receive.
Over a period of about six weeks, students cleaned the space, built and painted shelves and other fixtures, and decorated the walls with quotes, artwork, and inspirational messages about the power of reading. They also rallied for books, contacting former teachers and reaching out to schools in Philadelphia and the suburbs for donations. They hoped to amass 2,000 books in all—by the end of the first week, they had received more than 4,000, and the current count is above 6,000.
The books—which include illustrated versions of classics like The Count of Monte Cristo and The Jungle Book, popular series like Harry Potter and Diary of a Wimpy Kid, picture books, books of poetry, the works of Shakespeare, young adult novels, and more—will be loaned out on an honor system: there will be no late notices, no hounding for returns and no fees.
For Rodney Timmons, a pastor at Open Door Ministries who spearheaded the library’s creation at the request of people in the community, the space could ultimately be used as a center to meet an abundance of services: the library, after-school programs and tutoring, physical activities and sports in the building’s gymnasium, and even skills and job training for parents in computer labs.
“The object is to enrich the community,” he said. “You have to meet people’s needs...we’re offering multiple avenues for that, and this is one of them.”
It was through Pastor Timmons and Open Door Ministries that the need for a community library was realized. It’s a way to ensure books get into the hands of children who may have little opportunities to read: Webster is without a library, and the nearest local library is a 20 minutes’ walk away with limited evening hours, making it difficult for children with working parents to use it.
Brody Hydro, a sophomore Temple nursing student, recalls that, when told that they would soon have a library next to their school, one Webster student asked how much each book would cost; his face lit up, Hydro said, when he heard that they would be free to borrow.
“We’re able to build relationships with people,” said Emily Pinczka, another nursing student. “We get to see what people in the community are like.”
For now, the library will open during the week while Temple students are visiting Webster, as well as for two hours on Saturday mornings, staffed by members of Open Door Ministries. They hope to expand the hours and increase the services provided in the future. In June, the Temple students will organize a book drive to solicitation further donations.
And they’ll be needed—at the opening, more than one child carried three or four books to the checkout line. Another asked, “I wanted know if I could get my sister a book, because yesterday was her birthday.”
“Of course you can,” he was told.