WEST SENECA, N.Y. — Reading. It allows us to immerse ourselves into the world’s unknown, learn about other cultures, religions and races — the list goes on.
Now imagine not having access to books. It is a reality for so many children on Buffalo’s East Side. The situation has Buffalo’s first Poet Laureate on a mission, and a group of students at Erie 1 Boces are helping her one nail at a time.
“So I know for you, you have these plans, and you have this step-by-step process that you have to go through in order to build this library box,” Jillian Hanesworth said. “But for me, for someone who was born and raised on the East Side of Buffalo, who works next door to the Tops on Jefferson Avenue that was attacked. I really want to thank you. You are helping provide something to our communities that we have never had, ever.”
For 2 minutes and 12 seconds, Hanesworth stopped time for this group of PTECH freshmen at Erie 1 Boces.
We’ll rewind to the start of the pandemic when Hanesworth, who is also Buffalo’s first Poet Laureate, started her project Buffalo Books. She was inspired by the little libraries she saw all over the city. Everywhere, but the East Side.
“I wanted to take things into my own hands, and create a way for us to get books directly into the community and create what those books are,” Hanesworth said.
History, music, arts, poetry, and even books for parents on how to teach their children to read will be filing these boxes. And just for the kids, books with characters who look like them.
As you can see, it has taken on a life much grander than its own. It’s thanks to PTECH teacher Mike Ortman, who heard about Hanesworth’s effort and made a phone call.
“Most of my students come from the Cheektowaga area, so it is very easy, we almost interpret the East Side of Buffalo as a separate city,” Ortman said. “But, I wanted to point this out as to how close it is to home, and even though they may see libraries in their own neighborhoods, there’s other neighborhoods nearby that don’t have the same experiences.”
So, as their final project, these freshmen are putting their skills to the test. Are they trying to get an A? Absolutely. But after the May 14 tragedy, and meeting the woman behind the plans they're bringing to life, their eyes have been opened to the disparities kids their age face roughly nine miles north of their high school’s shop. This is no longer just a project to get done for the present. It will have a lasting impact.
“It will definitely make me feel happier because that means I brought joy to a kid’s life, and that is a feeling I will never forget,” Joy Rice, a freshman PTECH student smiled.
“I was making people feel better, now I am making people feel even better,” Bryson Novack, a freshman PTECH student said.
For Hanesworth, the sights and sounds are overwhelming.
“But in the best way possible,” Hanesworth smiled.
And her gratitude is overflowing.
“But I just wanted to thank you, and I hope at some point you can see the gravity of what it is you are helping provide to a community that doesn’t get a lot,” Hanesworth said to the students in closing.
They are certainly helping change that.
Once the boxes are done, they’ll be painted by local artists. Hanesworth hopes to have 30 little libraries dotting the East Side by August. They will be geo mapped so the students can even visit theirs.
Spectrum News 1 will be tracking this story, how you can help fill the boxes and maybe even make sure more are constructed.