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Library program aims to inspire incarcerated teens

Published: Monday, July 15, 2013 6:00 a.m. CDT

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WEST CHICAGO – Five years ago, Melody Coleman began reaching out to the Illinois Youth Center in Warrenville.

The West Chicago librarian knew funding had been cut for libraries in Illinois prisons in 2002, so even though she had trouble reaching anyone at the center, she kept trying, hoping to share some of the library’s materials with the teenage girls living there.

“I felt that how difficult that must be to be incarcerated and not have reading materials,” said Coleman, administrative librarian for the West Chicago Public Library District.

About a month ago, she finally spoke to someone at the Illinois Youth Center (IYC-Warrenville), having left messages in the past without hearing back. The library made its first delivery of 90 books and 112 magazines that same day, and the B.E.N.D. – or Books Enlighten, Nourish and Delight – Program was born.

“I believe that books do enlighten, enrich, nourish and delight,” Coleman said. “It doesn’t matter where you are, you should have that opportunity to connect with print resources.”

The average age of the girls living at IYC-Warrenville is 16. The center has a capacity of 86 people, but its daily population is about 78, according to the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice.

The materials donated by the library to the center do not fit in the library’s collection but are still in good condition. This could mean the library has duplicates of the same books or magazines, library patrons have not regularly checked out the materials from the library or the materials were donated to the library, said Shelley Campbell, the library’s public relations specialist.

“It’s a chance to live again,” said Joslyn Jones, youth services manager.

The materials are all age-appropriate for the girls at the center. The books are mostly novels, while the magazines focus on topics such as pop culture, fashion, health and sports.

The B.E.N.D. Program will involve quarterly donations of reading materials from the library to the center. Library staff have already begun to sort materials for the next shipment, which is expected to take place in September.

The program involves a partnership with DuPage African Methodist Episcopal Church in Lisle. The church provides some motivational reading materials, as well as personal care items, to IYC-Warrenville.

Outreach is not a new concept for the West Chicago Public Library District, but the B.E.N.D. Program is unique because of the people it reaches, letting them know the library cares about them, Coleman said.

“If we can make a difference in a child’s life, it doesn’t matter if they are walking through our doors or if we are reaching out to them in a unique partnership, it’s all the same to us,” she said.

Coleman said much of what libraries do is assist people with self-improvement, and the point of outreach is to provide that same service for those who can’t get to the library.

Through the B.E.N.D. Program, Coleman hopes to help the girls at IYC-Warrenville transform their lives and imagine brighter futures for themselves through the characters they read about.

“If you are in a place where it feels like there is no hope, I think that this gives you the opportunity to dream,” she said.

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