When paths crossed between Omaha Public Library (OPL) and Douglas County Youth Center (DCYC) representatives, they discovered an opportunity to assist youth by providing resources to help them open their minds, or possibly escape their current realities, even if just through the pages of a book.
OPL began working with DCYC Read Right facilitator and librarian Sue Helming to coordinate activities, including a donation of several books to the DCYC library. Kids received a book to keep when they wrote book reports or accomplished other academic goals. “These are not just books; they provide the opportunity to succeed in life when there is no hope,” said Roger Rowe, lead teacher at DCYC. Helming also worked with OPL’s book club coordinator to check out book club kits that come with multiple copies of a book, as well as discussion questions.
In August 2012, OPL arranged for Law Man author Shon Hopwood to speak to incarcerated youth at DCYC. Hopwood is a Nebraska native who served 10 years in a maximum security prison for committing five bank robberies. During his time in prison,he educated himself on the ways of the law and advanced a case to the Supreme Court. His message resonated with the youth and others who couldn’t help but notice him flinch each time the prison gates at DCYC locked behind him.
“I thought it was neat the interaction the kids had with Shon. They knew he was real and not just trying to push stuff on them,” said Helming.
In December 2013, author Walter Dean Myers made a visit to Omaha, which included a stop at the DCYC. Myers was the third National Ambassador for Young People's Literature and critically acclaimed author of books for young people. His award-winning body of work includes Sunrise Over Fallujah, Fallen Angels, Monster, Somewhere in the Darkness, Harlem, and All the Right Stuff. His books chronicle the lives of many urban teenagers, especially young, poor African-Americans. While his body of work includes poetry, nonfiction, and the occasional cheerful picture book for children, its standout books offer themes aimed at young-adult readers: stories of teenagers in violent gangs, soldiers headed to Iraq and juvenile offenders imprisoned for their crimes. While many young-adult authors have shied away from such risky subject material, Myers used his books to confront the darkness and despair that fill so many children’s lives - making his works especially relevant to the young people at the DCYC.
Together, OPL and DCYC plan to arrange more author visits, book talks and connections with other community partners.