Published on July 1, 2022 in Literacy
“This used to be a house,” said Pastor Glenda Fields, proudly pointing to an area of raised flower beds where volunteers are weeding and planting what is now the beautiful Gateway Garden.
It’s a special day at Gateway as the location is prepped for the addition of its new Little Free Library, a book-sharing box that provides free 24/7 access to books. The bright blue box filled with a wide range of titles is being built and installed as part United Way for Southeastern Michigan’s Day of Action.
Each year, on or around June 21, individuals and groups take action to improve and engage in their communities through volunteer activities. To celebrate this year’s Day of Action, United Way volunteers built four Free Little Libraries at locations across Detroit, including Gateway Garden, Focus:HOPE, Auntie Na’s Village and 180 Church. Volunteers also participated in a variety of neighborhood beautification projects.
“The Little Free Libraries are intentionally installed in communities where youth have limited access to books,” said Ellen Gilchrist, senior director of K -12 Education and Community Initiatives for United Way. “We work to create a diverse set of titles in our libraries because we want children to be able to visit a library and see themselves in the books available to them.”
The libraries will be maintained by a neighborhood stewardship program. United Way aims to build 50 Little Free Libraries across Southeastern Michigan by fall 2023.
“We’re working with local bookstores to stock the Little Free Libraries with titles geared toward kids from birth through age 12,” Ellen added. “When we purchase through local bookstores, we support local businesses and help combat book deserts in our region.”
United Way is also working closely with our partners and corporate sponsors to keep the libraries full year-round.
Rema Nasif, managing director at OneMagnify, participated in her company’s book drive, and could be found enthusiastically pulling weeds during the Gateway Garden cleanup.
“OneMagnify places a lot of emphasis on community and charitable giving,” Rema said. “We created an Amazon Wishlist for Little Free Library titles and were able to contribute nearly 200 books.”
Heather Storey, engineer expert at DTE, volunteered to assist with the Gateway Garden project and was inspired by the opportunities the new library would bring.
“I do tutoring, and for one of the girls I tutor, buying her books was a game changer because she didn’t have any books,” Heather said. “Once I bought her books and had them sent to her, when she got those, it was like, ‘Okay now I’m learning how to read.”’
As one team of volunteers constructed the library and prepared it for installation, other volunteers from United Way’s Women United, Gateway Garden Church, DTE Energy and OneMagnify, cleaned planter beds and planted colorful flowers for the community to enjoy.
Gateway Garden has become a community stalwart over the past several years – providing a fun and educational oasis for local children and families to enjoy. The garden springs to life during the summer months as a Meet Up and Eat Up location. Volunteers also helped to install an obstacle course for an added bit of fun this summer.
Pastor Fields appreciates the garden as a tool to bring a community of many different people together. She and her church use the garden to do community outreach host events like vacation bible school. She’s grateful for the contributions made by volunteers.
“Their presence here makes a big difference because it alerts the community to what’s happening,” she said.
Across town, United Way Day of Action mini-grants made it possible for volunteers at HHAVEN, Demographic Inspirations – Detroit, Yad Ezra, Greater Detroit Agency for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and Green Living Science to take on their own neighborhood beautification projects.
The Greater Detroit Agency for the Blind & Visually Impaired, which has been providing support groups, education, awareness, basic needs, and daily living skills to those who are blind and visually impaired for more than 60 years, transformed an unused side yard into a sensory garden.
The space will provide a place for the community to engage the senses of touch and smell. Stefanie Worth, the organization’s executive director, is excited for the social opportunity the garden will provide.
“The socialization aspect for the blind and visually impaired is very important,” Stefanie said. “With the garden, they can begin to reconnect in the safety of outdoors.”
Stefanie also hopes to plant fresh fruits and vegetables to encourage the community to choose healthier food options and avoid many of the preventable conditions that can lead to blindness.
“The garden will help us promote a healthier lifestyle all-around,” Stefanie said.
Thanks to volunteers who made it possible, the sensory garden at the Greater Detroit Agency for the Blind & Visually Impaired will help community members thrive.
To find a volunteer opportunity that’s perfect for you, visit our volunteer portal.