Casita’s new library gets a special visit

Photo by Daniel Bejarano

Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan at Casita Maria.

Cardinal-Designate inaugurates Casita Maria’s new library

By Daniel Bejarano

With the inauguration of Casita Maria’s new library at 928 Simpson Street, kids in kindergarten through 12th grade will have access to over 3,000 books. They were collected in a book donation drive that started last November and ended in January.

The library’s primary goal is to improve reading levels of young students at risk, and, as the directors of Casita Maria Center for Arts and Education noted, “Combat the drop in pupil reading scores in New York City schools.”

Marta Rivera, director of programs at Casita, didn’t expect the new library to be such a success. The book drive was a surprise, Rivera said. “We were expecting only 500 books and instead got 3,000,” she said.

To inaugurate the Claire Sullivan O’Keeffe and Elizabeth Sullivan Ridder Library, named after Casita’s founding sisters, Catholic Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan came on Feb. 8, just before he headed to Rome to become a Cardinal.

Throughout the event Archbishop Dolan shook hands and conversed with all who surrounded him. Many posed for pictures with him. “He’s like a celebrity,” Rivera said.

The chairman of Community Board 2’s Education Committee Richard Sherman, who was an educator for 35 years, expressed his support for the new library. He said kids were going to be able to “appreciate quite a variety of books.” He also stressed how important the library will be for Casita Maria. “This is how a community grows,” he said.

The library itself, previously a conference room, is a tiny square room, no bigger than 70 square feet with pine shelves lining all the walls and a small table at its center.

The library’s size didn’t seem crucial during the dedication, however. Though Rivera said it will need to expand, she was jubilant as she described the new library to people.

“Our first step will be to create a database for all these books,” she said. “This will allow kids to borrow books just like in a public library.”

Donors and collaborators included The New York Times, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, New York City Service in the Schools, New York University, Granta Publications and the Hunts Point and Longwood community, among others.

Diamond Foy, 15, an eighth grade Bronx Studio School student and her mother Mary McGee, 44, also a community board member, donated 40 books of different genres. “The library will be a better opportunity for children to come out,” McGee said,

Marta Ramos, a Bronx Studio School office worker, donated 341 books. She was happy to see the archbishop and came to the blessing just to hear him talk.

The blessing of the library was succinct.

Archbishop Dolan put on a cream-colored stole over his black cassock and read a prayer. He spoke in memory of the Sullivan sisters and praised Casita Maria’s 78 years of service to the community.

“Let the games begin. Alleluia,” he said when he finished the blessing.

After the blessing, the archbishop was entertained by 8 and 9-year-olds from Alexander Arcelay’s violin class, then by 6-year-olds’ theater movements from Natasha Parry’s drama class. “From Carnegie Hall to Broadway,” he said afterwards.

At the event, Casita’s chairwoman Jaqueline Weld Drake was presented with a silver tray dating back to 1942, previously owned by the Sullivan sisters. “The blessing was an opportunity to bring this treasure from the Sullivan family back to Casita,” said Rivera.

Although it’s not the first time Casita received a visit from a high ranking church official, Rivera made a note of the Archbishop’s attitude and the importance of the blessing. “His humor takes him a long way. He’s very open, and we’ll remember this day for a long time,” she said.

In one room of the center Melonie Reyes, 17, was reading to 5-year-old kids, a regular Casita activity that aims to instill the love for books from an early age. Reyes said the library will have “books that appeal to all ages.”

Reyes, a volunteer from the Bronx Studio School’s 11th grade, also helped build the boxes for the book drive. She was very excited to talk about the event and the books. “People still are donating books,” she said.

After the event was over, Vivian Li, 16, a Bronx Studio School’s student said, “I can’t imagine a life without books.”

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