Applause for Public Libraries

If you are following my podcast on iTunes or SoundCloud (Look to See Me by Chris Pepple), you can find some of the transcripts of my episodes here.

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Applause for Libraries

Hi, Listeners! I hope you are all having a wonderful week this week. Welcome back to Look to See Me, a podcast that invites you to look closer at the lives of people around you and to take time to hear their stories. I’m Chris Pepple and today I’m going to talk about the wonderful programs offered by our public libraries.

Let’s be honest—a lot of us take libraries for granted. I know I used to. I thought of libraries as the places that held me captive for hours in high school when I had to write term papers. I remember the dreaded card catalogs that I had to dig through to find my much-needed book locations and the microfiche readers that held the microscopic copies of the journals my teachers required me to use as resources. The libraries were eerily silent and often darker than I would prefer. Even though I was an avid reader, I didn’t necessarily enjoy libraries.

Now, though, I could spend hours in a library. I love the educational programs, the magazine reading rooms and the movies mine has for rent for one dollar. I even worked at a library for a short time—one of my favorite odd jobs. There’s a lot going on every day at a library that many people don’t stop to think about.

First—computer access. Libraries often provide a critical technology link for people who may not have a computer in their homes or for people who need to stop in on a break and print resumes or check email.

Libraries also provide educational programs for children and adults, and these programs are often free. Story times for kids and classes for adults can enrich any community. At my local library, adults can attend programs that teach them to knit, offer advice for writers, or let participants meet a master gardener and ask questions about the next planting season. Lecturers come who give advice about taxes or Social Security or making wills to families who don’t know how or where to get started.

The local artists and musicians in our community also join in on the fun at the library. Our symphony has brought musicians to our library to play for families and talk about their instruments. Theater groups have performed skits in the open spaces. Writers give readings, and even magicians perform a few magic tricks for the audiences who take a break from their busy schedules to have a little fun at the library.

In today’s podcast, I want to highlight two libraries that are doing an exceptional job of reaching out to others and using their resources to meet the needs of their communities.

First, let’s look at Chicago’s public library system and specifically their Laundromat Story Time. I found this good-news story in a U.S. News articlewritten by Joseph Williams in December 2018. The article begins by reminding us all of the importance of reading to young children. Many educators have concluded that future academic success can begin with simple bedtime stories and books shared by family members.

But not every home has books that are readily available to children. And even if they have books, not every parent has a lot of extra time to read. There’s a lot of daily chores involved in running a household and raising children. But the Chicago library system created a program to bring books to some children while the parents are handling one very time-consuming chore: getting the laundry done.

Chicago’s low-income neighborhoods have about 14 laundromats that fill up daily with parents needing to keep younger kids occupied while getting the family clothes clean. Chicago librarians saw a golden opportunity to read to these children. The librarians bring in colorful mats for the kids to sit on and bring with them plenty of books and even musical instruments to add to the fun. The kids are read to. They then get to join in the singing and games. Sometimes librarians bring in puppets to add to the experience.

Parents are learning, too. They are getting a glimpse of ways to engage their children and give their brains the boost they need for future learning. Not all parents know how to help their kids develop strong literacy skills. Families and entire communities are benefitting from the library’s willingness to reach the people where they are and to assess the needs of all community members.

Great job, Chicago libraries! Hopefully other cities will reach out to them and get information from the model they have created to make this program successful.

The next city I’m going to talk about is Miami. The Miami-Dade Public Library System has developed an upcycling program to meet the needs of two groups of people in their communities. I discovered this inspiring story from an article written by Ellen Bookfor Public Libraries Online.

Their program is called “Helping Hands: Upcycling with Dual Purposes” and is an arts and crafts program that meets the needs of two communities. The library wanted to reach out to both older adults and to the homeless in their area. This program reaches both groups at the same time. Older adults gather at the library to enjoy social time together. This gathering time helps many of them break the monotony of their days and helps them break the cycle of loneliness that touches many of their lives.

While they are at the library, these senior adults are tackling the problem of what to do with our overabundance of plastic bags while also helping the homeless population. The bags are turned into a type of string and woven into mats that can be given to the anyone living without a home. The disposable bags have been kept out of landfills and instead have given people comfort. It takes approximately 198 bags to make one adult-sized mat.

The Miami-Dade Public Library System and the Chicago Public Libraries are examples of organizations that think creatively in order to bring about positive changes for their communities. They are still serving the students who need to come in and do research for papers and readers can still come in just to check out books for the weekend. But these librarians are also looking to serve different populations and meet different needs—touch the lives of people who may not even walk into their libraries.

This is what I’m talking about when I use the words “Look to See Me.” These two library systems looked to see the people in their communities. Chicago librarians saw the needs of young children in low-income families. They knew these kids deserved to be read to as much as the kids who could walk through their doors. And they saw the needs of these busy parents who were doing the best they could with the resources they had—parents who were taking care of their families and doing the necessary work of tasks such as laundry.

Miami-Dade librarians looked and saw the needs of their older patrons who wanted time to feel useful and give their gifts back to the community. They also needed time to sit with their peers and just chat about life and their memories and share hope for the coming days. These librarians also saw the need to keep tens of thousands of plastic bags out of the landfills and saw the need of the homeless community members who could use a sleeping mat to provide a little comfort in the midst of their struggles.

Your challenge this week: visit your closest public library. Look at their programs brochures and see what all they have to offer. Find ways you can support the community programs they have designed to reach out to others in your town. Check out a good book or a movie while you are there. It’s a free way to try out new authors or reconnect with one of your favorites.

Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode of my Look to See Me podcast and will return for the next episode.

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Podcast Episode: The Jasmine Center

If you are following my podcast on iTunes or SoundCloud (Look to See Me by Chris Pepple), you can find some of the transcripts of my episodes here.

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Hi, Listeners! I hope you are all having a wonderful week this week. Welcome back to Look to See Me, a podcast that invites you to look closer at the lives of people around you and to take time to hear their stories. I’m Chris Pepple and today I’m going to talk about something a little different. In past episodes, I have talked about community groups and nonprofit groups that have been in existence for several years. I could give you a little history on the organization and a glimpse of their programs.

A few weeks ago, though, I ran into a woman and overheard her conversation about her plans for a new nonprofit organization. Now, remember that I’m a writer…being a writer means I’m always listening when I’m out in public. It’s how I learn new things about my community, about people around me, about our world.  I stop listening if I realize that people are talking about something extremely personal, but if I’m around people just chatting about life or work or interests, I love to look busy and keep listening.

In this instance, I decided to confess to the woman that I was eavesdropping. I introduced myself and gave her my contact information. I told her I would love to hear more about the project she was working on. I’m glad she was willing to check out my website and see that I wasn’t crazy. And she was willing to answer questions for me.

I wanted to know more about how an organization that aims to serve our community gets a start—how do you tackle large societal issues such as homelessness, poverty, and abuse when you are starting with just a vision? Here’s what I learned from a woman named Timishia Ortiz who is the founder and CEO of The Jasmine Center in Memphis, Tennessee. And please forgive me if my “Southernness” is mispronouncing her beautiful name.

Ortiz was graciously open to sharing her life story, so we can glimpse her background and see the perspective she is coming from when she had the vision to start The Jasmine Center. She was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, to a father who was a radiologist and a mother who was a stay-at-home parent. When she lost her dad at age seven to heart disease, her mother relocated the family to Memphis.

Ortiz’s life changed when she had to face the pain of domestic abuse in her own marriage. She faced a very rocky divorce while living in Nashville. Now many of you may not understand how challenging it can be for mothers to maneuver though Tennessee’s court system. The process takes an enormous emotional and financial toll on the people going through the courts. Nothing is easy even when you are the victim. In Tennessee, court costs and lawyer fees add up quickly. I can tell you that from personal experience. As so often happens, Ortiz and her children were homeless for a time. When she first left in order to be safe, she and her children stayed in a hotel for a few days. But she was a stay-at-home mother without income to sustain a long stay in a hotel.

When Ortiz tried to reach out to an agency for temporary government assistance, the woman assisting her with the paperwork asked for an address. When Ortiz gave a hotel address, the woman then declared that Ortiz and her children were homeless. That was a reality she had trouble naming or accepting. She used what little funds she had left to get to Memphis where her mother and brother lived. Unfortunately, neither had the resources to help her financially. Actually, her mother was being evicted from the house she was staying in because she was unable to keep up the rental payments. So, Ortiz felt truly homeless.

Here’s a quote from Ortiz…some information that she shared with me in her own words: “In the midst of these troubles, I was rushed to the hospital to give birth to my second child. God set up a miraculous breakthrough for us. We discovered that my deceased dad’s sister relocated (to Memphis) from Atlanta, Georgia. When she heard our dire circumstances, she immediately helped us in getting a place. While going through those turbulent times, I ran into other moms who had been homeless over an extended period of time. After their stay in shelters of 30-90 days, these families still had no place to go, sometimes had no skills to be productive, no resources to help their children…these moms were left with more hopelessness, no support, and a chance to be next on the waiting list for another homeless program. This gave me the drive and determination to PUSH until something new was birthed.”

Ortiz used her challenges in life to find new strength and a strong faith. She used that strength and faith not just to help herself and her kids, but to also reach out and help others. Here’s what she has to say about The Jasmine Center:

“The Jasmine Center is a social service industry with a strategic goal of reducing homelessness, crime, poor education, and unemployment in the city of Memphis. Estimations of poverty take into account the average household income, home value, the percent below the federally recognized poverty line and the overall unemployment rate. For all it’s apparent conveniences and perks, city living has never been easy or inexpensive. TJC wants to break the cycle of poverty so prevalent in single households that are caught up in the cycle of unemployment, domestic violence, crime, and incarceration by endeavoring to equip and empower individuals to live life with God, and to help them make the changes necessary to live an abundant and purposeful life. It is our desire to connect the families including any absent fathers with valuable resources, one-on-one mentoring through local church leadership, and counseling services. Our program is designed to develop relationships with the families in order to facilitate a transition from homelessness to a safe stable place to live.”

Now in her wisdom, Ortiz knew she couldn’t do this alone. She found a mentor named Mark Yates, president and CEO of Life Enhancement Services.  She also pulled together an advisory board. Here’s what she said about that process: “I began to think of leaders that enjoyed helping others. The more I talked about my story and my vision for the Center the more like-minded people I found. They would always say to me, ‘Wow, I wish I could help.’ There was my open door for recruitment. I started out with two medical physicians on my Board of Directors then it expanded from there.”

She also applied to be a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in May 2018. She admits that she wishes she had known beforehand how extensive this process was. Ideally, she now realizes she should have applied for that designation earlier in the process. But we all have things to learn when we are being courageous enough to follow a vision. And when we are strong enough to admit what we didn’t know, we can help educate others following in our footsteps.

So what’s next for The Jasmine Center? The team has built a website (thejasminecenter.com) and is looking for an actual location to offer housing for those in need.

“I am currently in the process of obtaining a place,” said Ortiz, “with the gracious help of realtor Timothy Smith with Jasco Realty and Mary Sharp of 32 years with Remax. They’ve been working expeditiously with finding affordable apartment style units for our expected families in need. I project to have a secure place before the end of 2018.”

The Jasmine Center isn’t sitting by idly while waiting for the housing. The team members are currently working to make connections within the community so they can work together with existing agencies to tackle the problems of abuse, poverty, and homelessness. They are currently involved in a collaborative effort with The Family Safety Center. They decided to make survivor kits for their victims of domestic violence.

What has been her biggest challenge in founding The Jasmine Center?

“My biggest challenge,” she admits, “was not allowing fear to stop me and coming up with the money to get it started. The next biggest challenge was preparing a feasible budget.”

In this podcast, I introduce you to a lot of nonprofit organizations working to make changes in their communities. Some of you ask how a person decides if they should share resources in support of these groups? Well, I suggest just being wise. Look at their websites and talk to their board members. Do your research as you would with any investment—and donating time or money to a nonprofit group is an investment in your community—in our world.

I’m looking forward to seeing what’s next for The Jasmine Center. I hope you follow their story. I admire the determination of Timishia Ortiz and respect her desire to make a difference in the lives of others. I appreciate her willingness and courage to honestly share her story.

Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode of my Look to See Me podcast and will return for the next episode.