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Literacy Forsyth opens free library for families

For months, Pam Burlingame watched the children of Literacy Forsyth’s students come to their parent’s classes. She noticed they often passed the time during class by reading the GED, ESL or citizenship books nearby, for they were the only ones available.

“We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we had volumes of books for the children to access and read?’” said Burlingame, the organization’s executive director.

From that thought came the Little Free Library.

Literacy Forsyth unveiled the quaint section this week. In the back of its classroom on Chattahoochee Industrial Park are shelves filled with books for all ages that are available to the organization’s students and their families during classes and the nearby Forsyth County community during regular business hours for, well, free.

The push for the library began last May when Burlingame spoke to the Altrusa International of North Georgia club. The two organizations found kindred spirits in one another. Literacy Forsyth has been helping Forsyth County residents improve literacy skills since it opened in 1993. The north Georgia Altrusa club has made literacy one of its linchpin causes.

Literacy Forsyth Executive Director Pam Burlingame leans on a shelf of books Monday, April 23, 2018, during the unveiling of the organization's new Little Free Library. - photo by Brian Paglia

Mary Kirley of the Altrusa club visited Literacy Forsyth that July, and they hatched a plan to convert the organization’s storage room into the library.

“It was kind of a culmination of energy between Pam and what she was needing at the time and what Altrusa was looking to do in terms of the community and improving literacy,” Kirley said.

They persevered through a failed grant application and a flood in January thanks to a grant from Altrusa International and a host of donations from the local community.

Books were donated by Cumming Home Ministries, St. Columba’s Episcopal Church and Altrusa members. Polly Williamson, an Altrusa member and former teacher currently residing in Cumming, donated her own mixed-media painting. They bought book shelves at IKEA.

“Some of us got really good with a mallet,” Kirley said.

On April 19, they put the finishing touches on the library. Now, adults can find books by John Grisham and Dan Brown and Jodi Picoult and Henry David Thoreau. Teens can read “Harry Potter” or “The Hunger Games” or “The Fault in Our Stars.” Children can find “Where the Wild Things Are” or “Curious George” or “Pete the Cat.” There are dictionaries and almanacs, encyclopedias and how-to books.

Literacy Forsyth relied on donations from local organizations like Altrusa International of North Georgia, Cumming Home Ministries and St. Columba's Episcopal Church to fill its new Little Free Library that is now open to the public. - photo by Brian Paglia

“The community has been so generous in providing us with books, and Altrusa’s been fantastic,” Burlingame said. “… It’s just been a collaborative effort.”

Burlingame said she hopes the free library gives the children of Literacy Forsyth’s students more enriching material to read when they accompany their parents to class and be a resource for nearby residents who might feel more geographically isolated from the county’s libraries, though Burlingame said they’ve already planned for the Cumming Library to hold an event at Literacy Forsyth to inform students about their services.

“We’re just about the books,” Burlingame said. “We’re really about the books.”