Black service group invites children to a good read

February 28, 1994|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Sun Staff Writer

In a neighborhood where many homes don't have books, the TC modest Continental Societies Library in Mount Ida is a blessing.

To Tammy Johnson, the 600-book library is a place where her three oldest children can receive academic tutoring and stay out of mischief.

"It gives kids other things to do besides get into trouble," Ms. Johnson said of the library housed in the Roger Carter Neighborhood Center on the outskirts of historic Ellicott City.

The library is operated by the Columbia chapter of Continental Societies, Inc., a national service organization of black women dedicated to helping disadvantaged youth.

On Saturday, the group became the county's first black organization to name a library after itself when it dedicated its library at the neighborhood center.

"We don't have aisle after aisle of books," member Barbara Miller said of the library. "We're not even endowed with state-of-the-art computers. But you see us."

"We are a service organization," said Ethel B. Hill, Columbia chapter president. "We get to bond through this organization and we get to grow."

The library began in March 1992 as an offshoot of the group's book fair and read-a-thon. The event encourages people to donate used books, some of which are later given to children who live in Mount Ida, a poor neighborhood in the hills above historic Ellicott City.

But the group wanted to do more than just give books to children who didn't have their own. They established the Continental Societies Library so that preschool through middle school students could have a place in their neighborhood to check out books, read and study.

"We're hoping we inspire in children a love for books," said Societies member Pamela Cullings, who also is an assistant principal at Deep Run Elementary School in Elkridge.

During the past two years, the library has outgrown its first home in a playroom at the neighborhood center and moved to a larger room.

Books there range from religion, arts and recreation to biography and fiction. There are also easy-to-read books for preschoolers and novels for adults.

The women also use the library to operate a tutoring program for neighborhood children who attend Head Start, which prepares preschoolers for kindergarten.

Because of the library's growth, Continental Societies has started a system to catalog the books and keep track of them as they are checked out and returned.

Despite the group's efforts, more often than not the children keep the books. Normandy Blackman, a Washington, D.C., public school librarian and member of the group, said she understands why some children don't return the books.

"Many homes don't have books in them," she said. "That book might be a personal friend to the child."

The women replace lost books through the annual book fair and read-a-thon, which brings in about 150 books each year.

They also search for used books on their own.

"We solicited books from our parents, and children, " Ms. Hill said. "We emptied our attics."

In addition to looking for replacement books, the society's members search for books that feature a wide range of characters.

"We need more ethnic-type books that have African-American, Asian and Hispanic" characters, Ms. Hill said.

She also said the library needs books for preschoolers, and it needs volunteers to help run the library. Eventually, the women would like to offer a reading hour and install a computer system.

"Reading is for everybody," Ms. Cullings said. "We want everyone to read."

The library is open Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

To send books or donations, call Thelma T. Brown at 301-596-5073.

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