WOODLAND — Two “Little Libraries” that just opened at affordable housing units here have an ambitious purpose: Boosting high school graduation rates and breaking the cycle of poverty.
“The correlation between smoking and cancer is less than the correlation between not being able to read at the third grade level and not graduating from high school,” said Gus Nolte, board vice chairman Housing Opportunities of Southwest Washington (formerly the Longview Housing Authority).
The Little Libraries will provide families living in the Tulip Valley and Lilac Place apartments with 24-hour access to books.
“These children live in low-income housing, and most families don’t have transportation to libraries or funds to buy books,” said Dana Wise, an administrative assistant for the housing authority. “The Little Libraries allow the children to come and take books as they please. We are hoping that being able to access the books at any time will allow the parents flexibility with the times that they can read to their children.”
Wise is part of the housing authority’s Read More, Learn More committee, which spearheaded the Little Library project. She said the committee was motivated to build the structures after hearing “alarming statistics.”
“There are numerous studies that show if a child isn’t proficient in reading by the fourth grade, their rate of success in academics drops significantly,” Wise said. “The statistic that resonated with us the most is that more than four out of five low-income students miss that milestone.”
By providing families in the affordable housing units with free, continuous access to books, the committee hopes to help these kids along the path to success.
“If we can break the cycle of kids not graduating from high school, then we may be able to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty,” Nolte said.
And though the committee has only been in place for two years and has no major success stories yet, Wise said the group is expecting its efforts to be rewarded.
“We started the program because we saw what other housing authorities have been doing, and they’ve seen success,” Wise said. “Our assumption is we will at least reach a couple of these children and help them become more proficient and successful in their academics.”
HOSWWA hosted a dedication ceremony at the Tulip Valley Apartments on Friday afternoon for the new structures, which were donated by the Woodland Rotary Club.
The units cost about $500 to build, and each library will hold about $200 worth of literature to start. The Little Libraries were built by Michael Loyd, husband of the Woodland Rotary Club president.
“The housing authority folks came and did a presentation, and they were asking for any way the group could help make the Little Libraries happen,” said Suzy Oubre-Loyd, rotary club president. “If somebody has a talent in a rotary group, and they want to offer their time, of course we can (donate that). I knew my husband could build them relatively easily, so I offered his talents.”
Regina Flagge, 9, and her brother TayVon, 7, stopped by the little library after being dropped off by the school bus. The siblings perused the new books, each selecting their own to take home.
Regina said their family owns a few books already, but that they usually “read the same books over and over.” She and TayVon said they were excited to have a place to get books they hadn’t read yet.
The housing authority’s Read More, Learn More committee has already distributed more than 1,500 books, and the group plans to give out 800 young adults books to local foster children. They also make books available in the lobbies of all of their housing units. The group will be in charge of keeping the Little Libraries stocked.
“Basically we just try to get books into the hands of children. That’s our main goal,” Wise said.
Housing authority CEO Chris Pegg added that she wants the Little Libraries to encourage parents to read to their children.
“It creates a situation where a parent and a kid are focusing on each other,” Pegg said, who was a single mother with two kids when she first started working at the housing authority. “When you get busy as a parent, it’s really easy to throw out one word answers, but this creates an opportunity for discussion (about the things you and your kids are reading).”
The units outside of the Tulip Valley and Lilac Place apartments are the first two Little Libraries in Woodland. Wise said they may be used by all Woodland residents.
“The Tulip Valley Library is going to be out near the street, so other children in the community can also take the books. It’s not solely for children in Tulip Valley,” Wise said. “Any child who wants to read a book, the Read More, Learn More committee wants to give them a book to read.”
Lori Lengyel, resident services coordinator at Tulip Valley, said she wants to start a “take one leave one” system for the Little Libraries.
“I have asked (residents) to do the ‘take one leave one’ because your leaving one might start somebody else’s new favorite book,” Lengyel said.