Community center’s read-a-thon celebrates library opening

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“Who’s ready for storytelling?” Nicole Figueroa asked the room of more than 20 students from Riverdale Neighborhood House’s pre-Kindergarten classes.

Figueroa, a children’s librarian at Riverdale Library, and her colleague Richard Ryan just finished singing a song along with students to help “shake out the sillies.”

“Me!” the students shouted in unison.

“How about we read a book I’m sure you’ll like?” Ryan asked. “Since you know it, I want your help reading a book.”

“Brown Bear, Brown Bear,” two students said excitedly as Ryan picked up the book.

Figueroa and Ryan were helping Neighborhood House re-open its library with a read-a-thon. They were among those from the library’s Riverdale branch that read along and sang songs with the students there.

Neighborhood House is a community center with services and programming for pre-k and school-aged children, teenagers and senior citizens. The library space originally was a lending library for the community until the Riverdale Library opened in the 1960s. Later, the room was a multipurpose space.

Eden Cintron liked the day because her father came to the school and the read one of the books from VeggieTales, the Christian-based children’s series featuring anthropomorphic fruits and vegetable characters.

Aleena Kugasia, also 5, said she liked when librarians read “How to Catch a Star” by Oliver Jeffers.

“I like the stars so much because they’re bright,” she added.

“I think it’s fabulous,” Anna Coppolecchia, one of Neighborhood House’s pre-k teachers, said of the event. She added that she and fellow teachers generally read books to students, but it’s also good to have other voices sharing stories.

Located across the street from Neighborhood House, librarians from the Riverdale Library make regular visits to the community center, and many of the kids there return the favor by making trips to the library.

“Our kids will go the library and recognize Miss Nicole and Mr. Richard and they get brought into all the wonderful programs the library has to offer,” Coppolecchia said. “It gets them involved in their local library.”

Rebecca Brown-Barbier, manager of the Riverdale library branch, said that in the past two years, the New York Public Library made early literacy and family reading an even greater priority. Collaborations with organizations like Neighborhood House help promote the initiative.

In addition to readings and sing-alongs at Neighborhood House, Figueroa and Ryan also visit three other pre-k centers in the area.

“It is our hope that reading becomes a part of every New York child’s daily routine,” Brown-Barbier said. “When a child starts to read, a new world opens up for them and for the entire family.”

Hearing some of the stories and learning the words, Coppolecchia said, students sometimes take books and read them to each other.

“They know (the words), but they will re-tell it in their own way,” she said.

The idea to open a library center at Neighborhood House isn’t exactly a new one. Dan Eudene, the executive director of Neighborhood House, said the Mosholu Avenue facility was the lending library for the community when it first opened in 1872.

“As we’re celebrating our 145th anniversary, we are kind of getting back to our roots,” he said. “So we’re able to renovate this room and bring it back to what is was, which was the library room.”

Eudene’s favorite part of the read-a-thon was the enthusiasm he saw on the kids’ faces as well as watching them “learning to love to read.”

Support for the library renovation came through grants from the offices of Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz and state Sen. Jeffrey Klein, as well as fundraisers Neighorhood House itself hosted.

While the younger kids read stories and sang songs, later in the day, some of the older students at Neighborhood House took part in a book discussion.

“Goodbye, see you later, later alligator,” sang the group as the read-along and singalong winded down. “After a while crocodile, goodbye for now, goodbye for now.”

“Nowadays, especially with technology and all the i-this and i-that, to really look at books and expand your mind … that’s so important to education,” Eudene said. “It’s the curiosity you get from reading books.”

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