Community Literacy Matters: The Little Free Library in Palm Center Community Garden

As an entity that strives to consistently contribute to the community-at-large, Imagiread set out on a bold quest to annually center communal literacy development projects back in 2015. The commitment came on the heels of the findings for a community-based participatory research project that asked the community if they read regularly, when, what, and how they found support services if there was a need. The response to the project was overwhelming. 

With the help of our partners, The Houston Public Library, World Book Day, and Arte Publico Press, we gave away more than 7,500 books in and learned that there was a huge gap in culturally relevant literacy development instruction. We took it to mean that we needed to answer the call in a much more dynamic way than previously imagined. 

Our first community-based initiative was entitled Pledge. Read. Win. The goal was to encourage all ages to read often, pledge to share their reading goals with others, and make it a habit to view reading for pleasure as a consistent habit. We thoroughly enjoyed the feedback and even got the mayor of the city of Houston to participate. It was an awesome feat.

National Family Literacy Month is consistently celebrated by Imagiread in November, encouraging families to take the time to make reading together an everyday tradition. Weʼve gotten creative with giveaways and suggestions but it never felt to be enough. Itʼs why when the opportunity to support the community with something tangible that theyʼd benefit from became available, we went for it.

OHIP, The OST/South Union Health Improvement Partnership is a social capital organization developed to address systemic health disparities and interrelated challenges for residents in 77021. With a key goal of fostering community relationships and creating equitable access to wellness services, they support the neighborhood with a variety of healthy living programs.

Our Head Imaginarian, Mrs. Tiffany, was fortunate to work with the organization in the summer of 2019, where she grew fond of the group. In the Fall of 2019, an opportunity to have a community-based initiative funded became available through OHIPʼs Neighborhood Recovery Corporation partner and LISC. Imagiread applied and was selected.

The scope of the project, designed to be expansive, was to install and curate a culturally relevant book nook that the community could access when they visited the community garden located at The Park at Palm Center. It was a bite-sized solution that sought to address the lack of mental health services in and around 77021, a place where families could come, nature bathe, explore titles chosen just for them, and shop for freshly grown produce. We didnʼt know it would be revered like it was.

Shortly after we were notified that we were chosen, we took to the community and asked questions. We wanted to ensure that what we envisioned was viable and benefitted everyone, so we announced that the space was becoming and asked what it should include. We got a ton of feedback that helped us to create the experiences the community asked for. We even asked childrenʼs authors in the community to chime and share their titles with us so that we could purchase them. The feedback we got was what weʼve known to be true, and that is, the community doesnʼt need another project. They need investment which is exactly what we were prepared to set up. We immediately informed our stakeholders that weʼd be implementing as planned but bigger and better. Then, we drafted a sponsorship plan and sent it to local businesses. Shortly thereafter we received a message from Big Z Lumber on Cullen saying they would donate all of the wood to build a custom unit and that a local Pearland wood maker would build it. Snapʼs Hardware chimed in and offered delivery services. The UPS Store on OST/South Union offered to print our programs and signage. Blown away, we immediately extended personal invitations to the community to come and be a part of the launch event.

Our first event was scheduled for December 28, 2019. Unfortunately, Mrs. Tiffany had to attend a funeral in her hometown of Detroit and couldnʼt attend but spoke with the planning committee, and they thought it would be good to press on, so the show went on. Sadly, the event was rained out causing it to end abruptly. The attendees were told that the event would be rescheduled and that a new date would be forthcoming.

In early January, we reconvened with our committee and partners. It was agreed upon that Valentineʼs Day weekend would be the rescheduled “official” launch date and immediately put out the word to the community.

Because it was critical that the OHIP Steering Committee be updated on our progress, we attended their monthly meeting in February 2020 with a special request. We asked the members to jot down words of wisdom about how important reading is and/or why the Little Free Library is important for and to the community. It was an incredible feeling to read all of the notes , so many families were represented in those messages. All of them saying "because community matters."

On the day of our official launch, the Houston Public Library came out with their full-sized mobile express tech lab and the day was simply amazing. The day ended commemoratively with all of the entities who contributed to the project being recognized by Mayor Turnerʼs office.

Regrettably, the Little Free Library has yet to reopen as a result of COVID19. Weʼve purchased additional titles for the unit and hosted a contactless book pack giveaway, completed with activities, in December of 2020 for local families in and around 77021.

All in all, we are grateful for all of the communityʼs support and look forward to reopening safely in the coming months better than ever. Weʼre presently preparing to host a series of virtual activities and classes from the garden. If you have suggestions and/or want to explore any of the following, S.T.E.M/S.T.R.E.A.M programming, culturally responsive art, dance, and/or yoga, please let us know.

You can email us at [email protected].

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