BLUE HILL — This spring Blue Hill Consolidated School Librarian Tracy Gandy and Blue Hill Heritage Trust Development Director Chrissy Allen teamed up on an important educational and community spirited outreach project between students at BHCS and students attending schools in Harlem in New York City.
In keeping with the school’s philosophy of providing a well-rounded education that prepares each student, academically and personally, to be a responsible, creative, self-motivated, and thoughtful citizen of our community, nation, and world, BHCS decided to share their love of reading with kids living in very different circumstances through a non-profit organization in NYC called Harlem Grown, which was introduced to them by Blue Hill Heritage Trust.
Harlem Grown is a non-profit working to break the cycle of poverty by providing public green spaces for families to play in, organically grown vegetables for community members to take free of charge, and working in schools to provide nutrition and environmental education free of charge. In addition to these wonderful programs, Harlem Grown wanted to install “Little Libraries” at their garden locations so that the children of Harlem also have a free place to access books outside of school, especially for the thousands of children who are living in shelters and do not have regular access to books, food, or even a safe place to play.
BHCS School Librarian Tracy Gandy said, “Working with BHHT to provide access to books for the children in Harlem was a wonderful opportunity to share our love of reading with others. Our students value having books in their classrooms and a full school library and were excited to connect with students in another community.”
Allen worked with BHCS’s Librarian Tracy Gandy and led a program where local kids from BHCS were educated on what life is like for a kid in Harlem, and the challenges they face. The discussion included the importance of access to nature, good food, and the power of books and reading and how critical it is to have access to all of these things regardless of your socioeconomic status. Students thought about the many examples of how our communities in Maine help support one another in these ways, and what the hurdles were for getting similar support in more urban places like Harlem. The kids at BHCS decided they wanted to help and jump start the library at Harlem Grown, so in honor of Dr. Seuss’s birthday the school rallied to do a major book donation. Over 2,500 books were donated, as well as Maine and Literature themed bookmarks to go with the books made by the students themselves. And to top it all off they started a pen pal program with school kids in Harlem!
“Conservation takes many forms. While the direct link to the work BHHT does on the peninsula may not be entirely obvious, we feel that teaching the next generation of our local kids the importance of access to nature, food, and knowledge for the global community is a real and important part of our job,” said Allen. “We firmly believe that through programs like this we can help create a more educated and compassionate generation of future leaders for our world.”
Shipping the books to Harlem came with a hefty price tag, so BHCS 4th grade teacher Sharon Longley rented a van and personally drove the books to Harlem over school vacation. Local businesses BHD Containers and First National Bank of Blue Hill chipped in to help her with expenses, as well as the BHCS Boosters. Even though the destination for these books was outside of their service area, they saw it as an opportunity to help these local students see their generous project through to the end and help children in Harlem receive this generous gift and our love of knowledge and reading from their friends in Maine.
“It’s always exciting to see our whole student body work together on a community service project, especially when other local entities like BHHT are involved. Our students were eager to learn more about living in Harlem as well as how they could help make this happen for kids like them,” said BHCS School Principal Shelly Schildroth.
Many of the gently loved and new books donated by families in Blue Hill can now be found in Little Libraries across Harlem Grown’s many garden sites.
Chrissy Allen- firstname.lastname@example.org
Tracy Gandy- email@example.com
Shelly Schildroth- firstname.lastname@example.org