Uvalde library struggles to be a summer haven after school shooting

Eight days after 19 students and two teachers were killed in their classroom at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, children’s librarian Martha Carreon sat in front of several children at the El Progreso Memorial Library for her weekly story hour.

She had done the same only 24 hours after the massacre.

Uvalde, a town about 80 miles west of San Antonio, is home to more than 15,000 people, but it’s a small town where everyone knows each other, and kids grow up going to the local pool, park and at the library during the summer.

The Uvalde School District also offers a multitude of summer programs – athletic and academic – for the community.

But after the May 24 massacre at Robb Elementary, the school district’s summer programs were delayed and some parents said they were reluctant to send their children to campus.

Mendell Morgan, director of the El Progreso library, said this is where the library hopes to fill the void and serve as a haven for families and children this summer.

The El Progreso Memorial Library, at 301 W. Main St., is about half a mile from Robb Elementary and is nestled under tall live oak trees and surrounded by various native plants.

“I was overwhelmed by what to do,” Morgan said. “Because we want to be respectful and not minimize or diminish what happened. But for the sake of the children, we must continue.”

“We want to be a place that’s safe, calm, cool, and empowers families to heal through our collection of books and programs,” Morgan said. “We want to be their haven to be normal, and with the kids it was so important to us that we were the place where we can allow kids to be kids.”

“These programs make children smile”

Carreon, who has kids in the neighborhood, leads story time with a sign language interpreter. She has worked at El Progreso for 13 years.

The event welcomes children for storytelling, song and dance and an activity, such as crafts or a game. Children are then encouraged to browse the book aisles of the library, which includes a section growing bilingual.

On Monday, the library will add its annual summer reading schedule to its weekly event lineup, but Carreon said the decision to continue as planned was not an easy one.

“We know these programs make kids smile,” Carreon said. “It’s the smiles that matter. But we also hope that this program will take the kids away from thinking about the shooting, and we can allow them to just be kids.

The summer reading program features an “oceans of possibility” theme and encourages children to reach certain reading and attendance goals so they can be eligible for a variety of prizes, including bikes, toys and board games.

A summer reading program is also available for adults, with an emphasis on reading time. Three prizes — a lunch at a country club, a restaurant gift certificate and a weekend getaway for two — are offered to participants who meet their reading goals.

Community love and support

Since the May 24 shooting at Robb Elementary, several donations have come in from across the country, which will result in even more free books, games and toys for El Progressoyoung patrons.

About 300 copies of Chris Scoggins’ “Magical Creatures Make Bad Pets” were distributed to children last week. A flurry of other donated books, such as Eric Ramos’ “Super Torta,” and games were delivered continuously, including a children’s version of Lotería, or Mexican bingo.

On Tuesday, Minnesota author Sheletta Brundidge will add 1,000 copies of her latest book, “Brandon Spots His Sign,” to the donation collection. She will also drop off personal care gift baskets for each of the library staff and volunteers. There are approximately 19 staff members, including 10 volunteers.

“I can’t help but want to do something to help the community heal,” Brundidge said. “So I’m going to go out there and show some love to the community. … All of these children have been touched by this shooting, and it’s not just about thoughts and prayers. It’s time for all of us to do something, and something as small as a children’s book can make a difference.

Morgan said several organizations have volunteered to lead arts and crafts projects and provide entertainment for children this summer.

A memorial fund — the Los Angelitos Robb Memorial Fund – has been in place until July 1 to benefit children through more library programs, books and software.

About Homer Yonker

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