Colbert Nembhard is a librarian who has worked as a manager at the Morrisania Branch Library for the past 25 years. Nembhard walks from the library to the Crotona Inn homeless shelter operated by SCO Family of Services where 87 families live. He takes up residence in the office or day care room where he digs through a suitcase full of books, hoping to keep reading a constant for the children.
Nembhard’s family moved from Jamaica to New York when he was younger. In college, his original plan was to study social services, but turned to library sciences instead. However, Nembhard sees the connection social services have with the library. People come to the library to work on resumes, and search for housing and jobs.
New York City has been criticized for contributing to homeless children getting behind in their education and missing days of school. When children go with their parents to search for help, they’re missing days they could be in school learning. Although, on a positive note, New York is taking steps to change this image.
Nembhard began reading at the shelter as an informal helping hand, but his initiative to help children with literacy was a spark in a citywide idea to add small libraries within shelters. The Department of Homeless Services was recognized by the Library of Congress for its Library Pilot Project. The project has set up 30 shelters with libraries, including donations from Scholastic Inc. of over 3000 books. Scholastic has also been recognized as a leader in promoting literacy to children.
Parents have been encouraged to read to their children. By reading to a child, it can help them develop the parts of their brains that involve mental imagery and understanding narrative. These developments are ideal for developing language and literacy.
“Brooklyn Public Library is proud to serve the diverse needs of a diverse borough – and when families cannot reach us, we will bring our collections and programs to them. By partnering with agencies like [DHS Family Shelter Library Pilot Project], we are able to serve the community beyond our 60 branches, ensuring that families from every walk of life can access are free, life-transforming resources,” said Nick Higgins, Director of Outreach Services for Brooklyn Public Library.
Over his 8 years volunteering at the shelter, he has worked to sign up families for library cards. He wants children to develop a lifelong relationship with libraries, including wireless modems for home use.
“You build relationships with them so that when you see them they feel comfortable,” said Nembhard, regarding how he knows most of the children’s names.
During one visit, he sang to the children Good Morning to You and Wheels on the Bus. Children loved singing along while toddlers were captivated by Rod Campbell’s Dear Zoo. Finger puppets and Velcro monkeys were also a huge hit with the toddlers. Through Nembhard’s readings, volunteers are given a blueprint for how to read to children during these library sessions. He offers an awesome example for how to provide literacy resources to children. Here’s to more of his igniting further libraries in shelters!
Here’s to more libraries!
YouTube Channel: SCO Family of Services
Featured image via Wikipedia
h/t New York Times