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Thursday, Aug. 3, 2017 12:08 am

A haven for neighborhood kids

Northside Children’s Community Library provides books and comfort

Jack the therapy dog pays a visit to the kids at Northside Children’s Community Library.
Photo courtesy Northside Children’s Community Library

 

During a recent visit by Jack, a therapy dog, to Northside Children’s Community Library, many of the kids were excited for a chance to interact with a canine friend. A few, however, were apprehensive.

“One little girl who is about six, when she found out the dog was coming, said ‘I don’t like dogs, dogs frighten me,’” said library coordinator Barbara Kienzler. The girl, along with her brother and sister, expressed fear of dogs and all three kept their distance – for a while. Like all well-trained therapy dogs, Jack does not bark or jump at people. “He was so patient, it’s very comforting” Kienzler continued. “They sat quietly nearby and kept their distance for a while. By the end of the day, they were all over that dog.”

The library, inside Third Presbyterian Church at 1030 N. Seventh St., acts as a de facto after-school program and weekend haven for the underprivileged children in the neighborhood. It has proven unusually long-lived for such an endeavor, having opened in late September of 2011. According to Kienzler, the mission of the library is to provide “a source for books and comfort and after-school time for our area, which is one of the areas in town that needs that kind of help.” The library also works closely with nearby McClernand Elementary School on various projects and support. “McClernand is a school with a lot of transient kids, kids moving in and out of the neighborhood,” Kienzler said. “We want to be there after school, and a lot of kids come right to us once school is out for the day.”

Upon arrival, most of the kids – many of whom live on the far side of the “digital divide” – clamber for time on the library’s computers. This is fine with the library staff, but they prefer to encourage reading, a task they manage with some pretty straightforward positive reinforcement. “If a child reads for 15 minutes we give them a piece of candy, if they read for 30 minutes they get two pieces,” Kienzler laughed. The children are permitted to borrow books without an i.d., and no late fines apply. “We have kids who come in and just play but some of them just curl up with a book and start reading.”

In addition to the library’s books, all donated by community members, the facility also provides access to crafts, games and puzzles and periodically presents special programs, like the one which brought Jack to the library. For instance, the neighboring SIU Medical School has been providing a program on healthy eating and other summer health issues each Thursday. “They always have a book that they either read aloud or have one of the kids read aloud – and then they donate the book to us,” Kienzler said. A few weeks ago a representative of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum visited in Civil War gear, bringing along artifacts the children could touch. Later this summer, retired librarian and history buff Kathryn Harris will visit the children in the role of Harriet Tubman.

“We don’t have something every day because the kids are usually content just to come in and read and play.”

Northside Children’s Community Library is open every day in the summer from 1 p.m. until 4 p.m. During the school year, hours are Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4 p.m. until 6 p.m, Saturdays 1 p.m. until 4 p.m.

Scott Faingold can be reached at sfaingold@illinoistimes.com.

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