The 100 people gathered Tuesday at a women’s domestic violence shelter for the opening of a children’s library couldn’t stop talking about their favorite books.
Memories of being read to by a parent or a teacher as well as reflections on reading to their own children flooded the room, and the hope is someday, the young boys and girls who have seen the worst that life has to offer will also learn to love books.
A public-private partnership between Jewish Women International, Montgomery County and Donohoe Construction created a comfy reading room, with sunshine yellow walls and bean bags, rocking chairs and a brightly colored rug on which to read. It is located inside the Betty Ann Krahnke Center, an emergency shelter near Shady Grove Hospital.
At any one time, 54 adults and their children call the shelter their temporary home for about 60 days while they attempt to get their lives in order. Yearly, about 200 children spend a short time living here.
JWI has set a goal of establishing 100 libraries in domestic violence shelters throughout the United States. Tuesday’s ribbon cutting that brought together Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett and other officials marked its 46th library.
The Donohoe Construction Company took two small rooms in the shelter, broke down one wall, rewired and painted to create the library — all without asking for any money in return.
The small library is named in honor of Esther Newman, CEO and founder of Leadership Montgomery, a county organization that brings together current and emerging leaders to improve the county. Newman was named a 2011 Woman To Watch by JWI.
Newman, who worked hard to create the Krahnke center’s library, said that families often end up at a shelter “with only the clothes on their back and nothing more in a rush to get out of the house as quickly as possible.” These children, she stressed, deserve books and a quiet space to read, just like every other child.
Newman challenged everyone attending the ribbon cutting ceremony to donate one or two of their favorite children’s books to this new library.
“The library is wonderful,” declared Vivian Levi, director of the shelter. She explained that there are many support services for women fleeing an abusive relationship but that only recently has the focus shifted toward the children as well. These children, whether they are witnesses to the abuse or actual victims, are more likely to use drugs, be involved with the legal system or end up in an abusive relationship themselves, Levi said.
“Domestic violence is the leading cause of homelessness for women,” she said, adding that much needs to be done “until there is no woman, man or child who wakes up in their own home in fear.”
Susan Turnbull, immediate past chair of JWI, donated a series of books about such places as the Grand Canyon and the New England coast.
“These are beautiful picture books so they can escape to a better place,” she said.
Turnbull, who admitted to staying up late the previous evening to finish the book she was reading, said she wants these children “to have something to wrap their arms around and have for their own.”
Also attending the ribbon cutting was Thomas Harr, CEO for Family Services Inc., who noted that “books have the potential impact” of changing lives, and the earlier a child begins reading, the better.
“You never know when a book is going to inspire a child,” Harr said, adding, “We are very fortunate to live in a county like this where people care.”
He grew up in western Pennsylvania nowhere near a library and learned to read by checking out “the funnies” from the Sunday paper, he said.
His wife, Barbara, “grew up as a welfare kid in Brooklyn.” She would often make her way to the city library, take out the maximum allowed three books and go to the nearby park. There she would read those books and return for three more.
“We want the children at the Betty Ann Krahnke Center to be able to escape into a good story and know that they can write their own story as they grow up,” Harr said.
JWI has been involved in setting up libraries since 2006 and has invested more than $250,000 in that program.