South City’s new Learning Tree Library tackles area’s low literacy rate
By Robyn Murrell
A group of children, parents and local officials braved a mid-afternoon thunderstorm to pour into the Oliver Hill, Sr. Community Center on Tallahassee’s south side. What was about to unfold was too important for them to miss.
They came because of an opportunity that Leadership Tallahassee says could be life-changing through reading. The ribbon-cutting signaled the beginning of a program intended to help at-risk children in the poverty-stricken neighborhood.
It launched the The Learning Tree Library, which is a project of the 33rd class of Leadership Tallahassee. The program is expected to thrive on donated books.
Unlike a traditional library, the participants in the program won’t be charged fees for returning books late.
“A lot of the children here don’t have access to books in the home,” said Courtney Atkins, of Leadership Tallahassee and chairperson of South City Revitalization Council. “They can take these books home and keep them forever. They can bring them back and check out more. We don’t mind whatever they need.”
According to the U.S Department of Education, a 3-year-old child born into-low-income families hear about 30 million fewer words than a child from higher-income families. Exactly 80 percent of the children in the South City community live below the poverty level and more than 500 of these children are under the age of 5.
“There are many families living in impoverished conditions right down the street from many of us,” said Brenda Williams, executive director of Tallahassee Housing Authority, which runs the community center. “Many of the children living in these areas enter Kindergarten lacking the basic language skills needed to learn how to read,” she added.
“This is one great example of how a group of people can come together to lend a hand or in this case a book to make a difference in the life of their neighbor in need.”
Advocates of the program also believe that adults who read to their children could also benefit by improving their comprehension skills.
“That’s something we consider a secondary plus, absolutely,” said Atkins. “We hope more than anything that happens. Also; that adult understands how important it is to read to their kids [and]expose young children to books.”
Pamela Manuel, a summer camp counselor at Oliver Hill, Sr. Community Center, said the library is something that the community will grow to like.
“I think the idea of having a library here is something excellent,” she said. “Once the parents see the need of them coming to the community center maybe they’ll utilize it.”
In addition to being a place where children could go to read, the community centers also will offer an after-school program.
“We’ll offer tutoring, homework assistance by two certified Leon County school teachers, also computer based instructions, parental involvement and family literacy workshops,” said Williams.
“This space is going to be a real contribution to that program.”