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Schoolchildren Help Build Library for UWS Women's Shelter

By Emily Frost | May 7, 2014 6:58am
 The West End Residences shelter will soon have a library for the young children living there. 
UWS School Helps Build New Children's Library for Homeless Shelter
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UPPER WEST SIDE — A local homeless shelter for young women with children is building its first library with the help of a nearby private school. 

With a complete overhaul of its library in the works, the pre-K to 12th grade Calhoun School is donating shelves, carpeting and books to West End Residences, a shelter located two blocks north of the school at West 83rd Street and West End Avenue. 

The shelter, which houses pregnant women and children up to 8 years old, was crying out for a children's library, said Leisel Renaud, one of the shelter's coordinators.

A room on the seventh floor of the 12-story complex, which also houses a clinic and daycare center, was once used for GED classes but now sits empty, she said. 

Renaud thought the 100-square-foot space had potential as a venue where mothers and children could read together.

"I do a lot of workshops stressing the importance of being able to read, because a lot of the moms dropped out of high school," she said of the 54 women who live at the shelter, all of whom are between the ages of 18 and 24.

Each woman typically has between one and three children with her, Renaud added. 

Some of the residents are domestic violence victims. Some have mental health issues and others grew up in the shelter system. The clinic offers counseling and job training to try to get them back on their feet. 

They're "an eclectic group," said Renaud, explaining that "some of them just had a rough life." Their children either go to local public schools or attend daycare at the shelter. 

In asking around for help to build the library, Renaud reached out to the Calhoun School, which has partnered with West End Residences in the past.

Calhoun recently formed "Cooper's Troopers," a coalition of 200 elementary students in grades 2 through 4 who will do service projects to honor Cooper Stock, a classmate who was killed by a taxi driver in early January. 

The children are making the library their first official "Cooper's Troopers" project, with a mission to stock it with 500 new hardcover books, as well as help decorate and open the new library by June 4. 

"That his classmates will dedicate a day in his memory to create a library where others can learn and grow is the very embodiment of Cooper and provides a great deal of comfort," said Cooper's mother, Dana Lerner.

In the next month, Calhoun teachers will install shelves from the school and help get the room ready, bringing over bean bags and pillows used by the school.

Twelve classes will each make trips to the library on June 4, carrying the new books they've collected through local donation drives.

The students will also make mobiles, wall art, bookmarks and recordings of songs for a listening center within the library, said Alison Rothschild, the director of the lower school.

The library will be open for a few hours each day until a volunteer program gets underway. Then, Renaud hopes it will be open for storytime and drop-in visits every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

"Mothers are really big on reading hours," she said. 

Renaud's vision also includes creating an adult library in another unused room on the eighth floor, but for now she's taking things one step at a time. 

Donations of new hardcover books for children from infancy through fourth grade may be dropped off at Barnes & Noble on Broadway at West 82nd Street, the Calhoun Book Fair on May 8 from 9-10 a.m, or at Calhoun’s West 81st Street and West 74th Street buildings between May 9 and June 3. 

Those interested in volunteering at the new library may contact Renaud at Lrenaud@westendres.org