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Little libraries create love of literacy Young people build first of several planned for Lawrence

Updated: Jan 8, 2021

Can't get to the Lawrence Public Library but need a new book to read? Lawrence Prospera's SISU Center has you covered, now that the first of the first of several little free libraries has been installed in the city.

As part of the group's latest community service project, a library has been installed in the parking lot of Coco Ray's restaurant, 197 Parker St., for everyone to use. It is one of 25 small libraries SISU intends to create across the city, according to Stephanie Pelletier, a case manager with the organization.

Joaquin Castillo is among those working on the project, which was conceived after young people in SISU felt access to literacy was lacking in Lawrence, Pelletier said. Castillo and others came together to research little libraries, get donations from the Lawrence Public Library, the offices of state Rep. Christina Minicucci and Mayor Daniel Rivera and other places to fill the shelves, and then got to work building the little libraries.

Construction was the easy part, according to Paul Heithaus, director of program development for Lawrence Prospera. As part of a program called Youth Build that operates at the SISU Center, participants like Castillo take part in 10 months of classroom learning combined with construction courses and community service. People who come to the center are typically ages 16 to 24 and at-risk youth, Heithaus said, and are often referred through police and probation departments. Some participate in the program through the city's Safe and Successful Youth Initiative (SSYI), a state-sponsored prevention and diversion program.

"The youth that come here and the people that work here have a commitment to bettering their environment and that's exactly how we came up with the little library project," Pelletier said. "It seems like a funny thing for a re-entry program to do, but our youth identified a lack of literacy in the community as a problem. This was their solution to getting books out. We heard reasons like 'my mom never read me books when I was younger' or 'my teachers always had books so I thought it was something special.' To say that the youth are excited about this project is an understatement."

Castillo is a success story who has stepped up to mentor young people at SISU, Pelletier said.


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