By Bill Powers
“Changing Children’s Lives one book at a time” is an expression sometimes used by advocates for the improvement of children’s literacy. It is the motto for the Pilcrow Foundation’s Children’s Book Project Grant based in Oregon. The Windham Free Library applied for and received three different grants last year. In December of 2023, several cartons of children’s books selected by the Windham Free Library arrived from the Pilcrow Foundation project. There were 111 high quality hardcover books previously selected by the library to be added to their collection. The books included award-winning and star-reviewed titles from educational and literary organizations. It was the first time the library has received this grant for which the library matched one third of the grant amount with funds they raised themselves. “The grant was an incredible opportunity for Windham’s children” said, Kathy Miller the Library ‘s board president.
In December the library received a grant that focuses on children’s books and next summer’s program for kids. The Leo J. & Rose Pageau Trust benefits local charities, religious, scientific, literary and educational groups or projects in the Windham, Connecticut Community.
Serving the needs of Windham Center’s children by the Windham Free Library is not new. The library had its beginnings in 1896 and it was “organized by a small number of citizens as a non-profit association library.” There are past accounts of elderly residents who recalled walking with their class from their neighborhood school to the library more than 100 years ago. That tradition is practiced on a regular basis today, when students walk with their teachers from the Windham Center School to the Library to check out and return books. While they are there, they assemble in the historic Dr. Chester Hunt Office to hear a grade appropriate story read to them by a library volunteer.
Janice Patry, the library director told me, “As the Windham Free Library is the smallest free standing public library in Connecticut, grants like those offered by The Pilcrow Foundation and The Leo J. and Rose Pageau Trust go a long way in stretching our book budget allowance. Having received these grants, we will be able to expand our offerings, as well as replace some of our well-loved books in need of repair. Our partnership with the Windham Center School provides the opportunity for students in their classrooms to visit the library multiple times throughout the year, and we are excited to be able to add new materials to the collection for them to choose from.”
A third matching grant and the largest obtained by the library last year demonstrates the library board’s responsible stewardship for the Dr. Chester Hunt Office, a true historical gem that stands on the library’s property and was built in 1790. The grant called for the exterior windows to be restored including glazing and painting. Exterior clapboards were repaired as needed and the exterior of the building painted. Preservation Connecticut provided the funding through one of its 1772 Foundation Grants. Preservation Connecticut works to “preserve, protect, and promote the buildings, sites, and landscapes that contribute to the heritage and vitality of Connecticut communities.” The services of Mr. Bill Bender from Windham were procured; he has completed other similar restoration projects in the past. A goal was to preserve as much of original wood as possible.
Many thanks to Ellen Lang who was involved with writing the grant applications for the library and who was helpful with providing much of the information for this story.
Bill Powers is a retired Hartford and Windham Public Schools teacher.