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Children’s Zone for Employee Emergency Relief Project

Submitted by Houston Public Library, Dr. Rhea Brown Lawson, Director Award: Wayne Williams Library Project of the Year


Relief, Recovery and Renewal

Vinson Neighborhood Library

Relief, Recovery, and Renewal is how Houston Public Library stepped up to the plate in the wake of Hurricane Ike. More than 2 million households, businesses, schools, and hospitals in the area had no electricity after Hurricane Ike made landfall on September 12, 2008. Significant property damage, downed power lines, and the lack of electricity and other basic services forced schools, daycares, and businesses to remain closed for the next several weeks.

Houston Resident Home Damage

Downtown Houston


Dr. Lawson announced to Houston Public Library staff four days after Hurricane Ike struck Houston that the Library would set aside its core mission and replace it with helping, healing, and assisting with community’s recovery efforts. She stated, “Our efforts will be led by the need for compassion and caring for our staff and neighbors.” The team formulated a realistic action plan. It was approved by City Council Members and Mayor Bill White the same day.


Project Locations The younger children (5 to 9) were separated from the preteens and teens by using two distinct program locations. The Program Place, a large programming space adjacent to Central Children’s Room on the 4th floor, afforded a panoramic view of downtown Houston and more than enough program space. Designed for younger children, the space provided child-sized tables and chairs, an easy to clean and sound-absorbent floor surface, state of the art audiovisual equipment, including a large drop-down screen for showing movies, and a movie license in place. The doors on opposite ends of the room leading to nearby restrooms would be easy to monitor. In contrast, the striped couches and glass block wall of the remodeled lower Concourse Level meeting room would appeal to older youth, ages 12 and up. The room also offered built-in audiovisual equipment for showing movies; or projecting video games. An adjacent room had a sink, small refrigerator and small storage.


Within 24 hours of downtown Houston “reopening,” Houston Public Library’s Central was accessible to the public. From among the 41 Library sites, Central was the only fully operable Houston Public Library facility.


Library Programming for Ages 4-9: This programming focused on the primary needs of children as its priority. These children’s lives had been disrupted by Hurricane Ike and they no longer had basic services. The routine would include food, breaks, a variety of activities, storytime, and quiet time.


The storytimes, activities, and crafts were always linked to literature and library resources. This provided added value for the children beyond the experiences of a daycare facility. Children’s books such as Hurricane by David Weisner, Hurricane Hunters!: Riders on the Storm by Chris Demarest, and nonfiction works such as The Magic School Bus Inside a Hurricane by Joanna Cole were shared to provide children with information and a framework for their experiences.


“I am so grateful for the childcare you provided for us. My child leaves here everyday full of joy about the activities and all the nice people she’s met. Thanks again!”


Community

involvement

increased

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participation

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restaurants

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entertainment. The Houston Dynamo soccer team mascot, Dynamo Diesel signed autographs and entertained the children during a visit to the Children’s Zone.


Library Programming for Ages 10-18: The programming for the older children needed to provide a variety of recreational and social activities to keep the tweens and teens engaged and interested. Young Adult Librarians utilized Nintendo Wiis and small flat screen TV’s to provide interactive gaming activities for up to 40 teens at a time. This was the most popular activity, and also served as an excellent ice breaker. The games required social interaction amongst several players, so the participants quickly made new friends. In addition, a cart of materials from the extensive manga (Japanese graphic novels), books, and comic collection of the new Teen Room was available at all times in the lower level Concourse Teen Zone.


Internal Communication Tools Staff used many communication tools from the Hurricane Ike blog to daily meetings to check assignments and the status of the program. Staff remained flexible and rose to the challenges. Neighborhood Library staff met and worked with Central public service staff and support staff. Effectiveness and transparency within the 41-site library system improved as a direct result of the relationship building. Simply put, matching a face to the name established new relationships resulted in better communication and responsiveness in daily operations. It fostered respect for the contributions of other staff and gave staff opportunities to understand each other’s responsibilities.


H-TV filmed at the Program Place where youth program participants proudly displayed a large “Thank You, Dr. Lawson!” banner. H-TV filmed youth whose parents had signed a media release during a storytime and an aerobics session, and interviewed Dr. Lawson and Youth Services staff. This TV spot also promoted the quality of regularly scheduled Children’s, Young Adult, and Adult programs at the Library.


Alongside a sense of accomplishment, the program filled many Library staff with pride. Pride in their individual efforts, and in the library’s contributions toward the City’s recovery process enhanced personal, professional, and the organization’s public image. It reinforced employee commitment to be superior service providers.


The children received relief from boredom and isolation with access to educational and entertaining books, magazines, and access to telephones, computers, and communication outlets. The children recovered a sense of security and balance in their lives through the structure of the program. This two-week library experience promoted and strengthened the process of Renewal for more than 600 Public Houston Library staff, 217 participating City employees and their children, and almost 500 youth.: a sense of security, morale, compassion, empathy, understanding, community, basic services, energy, connectedness, and spirit.


Wayne Williams Library Project of the Year Award