Jodi, 30, is a reader. She is also a homeless single mother. So when the Cotuit Library recently invited Jodi and other homeless mothers to a special family literacy program, she decided to take full advantage of it. “I think it is amazing,” Jodi said.
Jodi’s son, Max, who is almost nine months old, sported a wide smile during the sing-a-longs and paid close attention during a recent reading session at the library.
Jodi and Max live at Angel House, a homeless shelter located in a former apartment complex in Hyannis.
Angel House, one of four shelters operated by Housing Assistance Corporation of Hyannis, is for families in which the parent is recovering from drug and alcohol addictions.
The “Increasing Digital and Family Literacy” program for the families living at Angel House began at Cotuit Library this fall and includes songs and stories for the children plus information for the mothers about the importance of reading to children. The library pairs the family literacy program with a digital literacy program for the mothers about online etiquette and safety.
But it was the family literacy program that was on full display recently at the library as the mothers and their young children sang songs, danced and then settled down to read books together.
Since starting the program, Jodi said she has incorporated reading to Max’s bedtime routine. “Bath, book, breast-feed and bed,” Jodi said. “The four b’s.”
During a recent session, she took out four books for Max. The library allows the mothers from Angel House to take out as many books as they want for the standard two week periods.
On a recent weekday morning, Jodi and six other mothers who from Angel House were participating in the reading program led by Cotuit Library Youth Services Director Lenora Levine.
Levine, who has been at the Cotuit Library for just two years but has worked in libraries for 30 years, said the business of libraries is changing.
“It’s not just a building. We’re a service,” she said. Modern libraries are looking for ways to reach out to the community. Besides the program with the Angel House mothers, the library also has outreach programs at a local preschool and is considering starting a program at the hospital.
“It’s getting to kids when they are little. Starting them off on the right foot,” Levine said about encouraging the Angel House mothers to read to their children. “I think we’re reaching an audience that might not make use of the library.”
Cotuit Library Director Jenny Wiley said she got the idea of approaching Angel House from her wife, who is coordinator of the human services program at Cape Cod Community College. “I was looking for a way for us to do outreach in the community. This is probably the easiest collaboration I’ve ever had,” Wiley said,
When Wiley called Angel House to propose the program to staff there, the response was an immediate and enthusiastic “yes.”
In addition to the program on book literacy, the program with Angel House includes classes on digital literacy.
Wiley said teaching digital literacy has become a common role for modern libraries. In fact, she said when she was going through her master’s degree program in library sciences, about 60 percent of the program focused on digital information.
For the Angel House clients, the program focuses on online etiquette, privacy and safety, including how to find accurate information online. “In the last few years, it has become increasingly important,” Wiley said.
In the first class on online literacy for the Angel House clients, Wiley taught them how to change their privacy settings on Facebook. “They didn’t know about it,” she said. There was also discussion about what information they should and should not post on Facebook.
Between the program on family literacy and the classes on digital literacy, Angel House staff said the Cotuit Library partnership has benefited their clients. “It’s been wonderful,” Angel House Family Therapist Marty Woods said.
This article and these photos are reprinted by permission from Cape Cod Wave (www.capecodwave.com).