Baptists rescue New York library

St. Paul's congregation pledges $100,000 for room closed since 1970s

March 22, 2001|By Bob Liff | Bob Liff,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

NEW YORK - While the federal government moves to give taxpayer dollars to church-based groups, an East New York congregation has gone the other way.

Children recently began trickling into a newly renovated second-floor room stocked with shelves of books and new computers at the New York City public library's New Lots Avenue branch, which was recently renovated through a $100,000 pledge from St. Paul's Community Baptist Church.

"I was surprised they had a library up here," said Kenny Gardner, 12, racing through computer screens after school.

"I didn't believe it," said Melysa Martinez, 12. "It's quieter up here."

Nearby, chief librarian John Schwab, a 40-year veteran of the system, worked with a 5-year-old boy on his homework. Mothers read to children, while sun poured through floor-to-ceiling windows into a room that until recently was used for storage. It had been closed during the municipal fiscal crisis of the mid-1970s.

The pledge by the Rev. Johnny Ray Youngblood, the church's pastor who was being honored at a 1999 library dinner, was as unexpected as it was welcome.

"He just had that idea that night," said Evan Kingsley, a deputy director of the Brooklyn Public Library. Kingsley said he was unaware of any other major grant from a church to a secular organization like this one.

St. Paul's is four blocks from the library.

Youngblood, who also helped found East Brooklyn Congregations, which has built thousands of private homes in East New York and Brownsville, pledged $25,000 each year for four years.

Barbara Osborn Harris, a regional librarian overseeing branches across southern Brooklyn, knew what she wanted to do with the money.

She had a small office on the second floor of the New Lots branch, looking out at the dust-covered desks and shelves piled up in the unused room.

She would meet with library higher-ups at the branch as part of her campaign to resurrect the room. But, "Although we had talked about bringing back the children's room, there was no money to bring it back," Harris said, sitting at a table in the sun-drenched room. "After Rev. Youngblood pledged the money, we decided to do it."

Harris said the change has brought more children into the library, and that they are better behaved. Kids react to their surroundings, she said, and the new room has been an oasis of calm.

The branch's upgrade coincides with a general improvement throughout East New York, where unsubsidized private development and lower crime rates have signaled the rebirth of a neighborhood once written off by much of the outside world.

Schwab said the renovated branch, including a new elevator and new floors, allows staff to better serve the 6,000 children in nearby schools.

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