Reading program links families, scholars Program: Children and their guardians express feelings on the facts of life at a book discussion group for Cherry Hill and Westport residents.

April 02, 1996|By Miranda Barnes | Miranda Barnes,STAFF WRITER

In the midst of Westport Homes, Jackie Williams and her daughter Marcia can be found once a week in a quiet recreation center discussing good books, and philosophizing on friendship and love with other Westport and Cherry Hill residents.

Ms. Williams and Marcia, a fifth-grader at Westport Elementary School, are one of 16 pairs of children and their guardians who participate in Family Matters, a reading and discussion group designed by the Maryland Humanities Council to bring together public housing residents, scholars and librarians who may not have otherwise crossed paths.

After reading the books of the week, the two groups meet at Flag House Courts and Westport to focus on subjects related to love, death and family relationships.

The six-week program, sponsored by the Humanities Council, Enoch Pratt Free Library, the Housing Authority of Baltimore City and Baltimore Reads, began March 7. It gives each pair two books a week.

An initial grant of $4,700 from the Margaret Alexander Edwards Trust helped the project come to life.

"Well, it just seemed to me, like a lot of the programs we funded took place in the institutions like the Walters [Art Gallery] and the Maryland Historical Society, places where they had people who knew how to write grants, who knew how to come in and get money and it seemed to me that we should start putting programs in places where people weren't so savvy," says Barbara Wells Sarudy, executive director of the council.

So, while Pratt library has long offered bookmobiles to the city's public housing facilities, Family Matters is credited as being the first reading program to actually go into a housing site.

Librarians act as discussion leaders and guests, ranging from cast members from the television show "Homicide: Life on the Street" to professors of English and humanities from area universities, read passages from selected books and often from their published works.

At the end of each session, the pairs receive a book written for children and another geared toward young adults.

"We tried to find books that reflect the urban experience," says Deborah Taylor, coordinator of School and Students Services for Pratt library. "We wanted books that showed a variety of African-Americans."

The Westport group recently read a story of two teens in Harlem who fall in love despite the drugs and homelessness affecting their lives.

In a room filled with arcade games at Westport-Mount Winans Youth Development Center, children sat on the edge of their seats eager to tell their version of the story.

Margitta Golladay, the council's grants / management information officer, enjoys watching the children grow each week.

"I totally come here for selfish reasons," Ms. Golladay says. "I see that it's making a difference. It's just great," she says.

"They're able to talk about love and values," says Eunice Harper, librarian and discussion leader. "You can tell the families do talk" about the books.

"What if you fell in love with someone homeless?" asks librarian and discussion leader Carlotta Young.

"I would help them find a place to live. I would ask my mother and father if they can live with me," responds Shantrice Bennett, 12.

What about love?

"You have to love and respect yourself," Ms. Williams says.

As the leaders raise the option of discussing poetry or taking a break, in which pizza or burgers are served, the children all agree that poetry is a better choice.

As Marcia stands to read "Slave Ritual," a poem by Carolyn Rodgers, Ms. Williams admires her daughter.

Ms. Williams says the two read the books together and that Marcia has long been an avid reader.

"I love this program," Ms. Williams says.

The program ends April 11, and the staff of the Humanities Council is preparing for the future.

"Because this has been successful we are going to try and expand it, perhaps to a shelter," says Judy D. Dobbs, deputy director of the council.

The council recently completed its second grant application to the Edwards Trust.

The final session to be held at the Central Pratt Library will bring both Flag House Courts and Westport group members together.

As well as receiving certificates of completion and library cards, the pairs with perfect attendance will receive $10 bookstore gift certificates to encourage reading to continue.

Pub Date: 4/02/96

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