While I like to keep you up-to-date on what Orlando City’s players do in their spare time and who’s coming and going for the team, this article has a much more personal meaning for me.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to meet with Kay Rawlins, Director of Community Relations for Orlando City, and with Alanna Leaptrot and Jannette Matos, local change makers, who are joining forces on a new and exciting project called “Little Free Library” or LFL.
The concept is simple really, place free books in a small, free-standing box directly in the neighborhoods who need them the most. People are free to barrow a book at anytime and people in the community are asked to return the books when they are done and to provide any new books they may have to keep the LFL stocked.
Orlando City is working on a plan to place two LFL in areas near their respective playing areas. The first location would be in the low-income, inner city community of Parramore, by the neighborhood grocery store and not far from the Citrus Bowl. The second would be adjacent to Orlando City’s training facility in Lake Mary.
When Rawlins was introduced to the idea of LFL’s it immediately hit home for her. As a former preschool teacher, she understood the importance of literacy, exercise, and healthy eating and wanted to make sure Orlando City took an active role in these community causes.
The team works closely with local organizations, such as ROCK (Reduce Obesity in Central Florida Kids) to aid in the education of children and families about healthy eating and exercise. Over the pass few years ROCK has been working with the City of Orlando to help the Parramore community with a ‘Call to Action’ to reduce childhood obesity. According to Kay the neighborhood grocery store located in the heart of Parramore’s community, was only offering convenience type foods (such as frozen pizza), alcohol and cigarettes, but no fresh produce. Communities like Parramore need access to affordable, nutritious food because it is necessary to live a healthy lifestyle. For the transformation of the store the money was contributed through a grant, as a result the Parramore community has access to healthier foods and can make smarter food choices.
The “Little Free Library” concept is an extension of this “healthy lifestyle” effort between the City of Orlando, local organizations, and the team. For instance neighborhood people will now have a local place where they can meet to exchange favorite books or share their favorite childhood stories. Literacy is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle by giving children and adults a mechanism to further themselves intellectually and to make educated decisions. In some cases, people living in low-income communities such as Parramore do not have access to regular transportation to the city’s downtown central library. That is why the LFL concept helps to fill a gap in literacy education that exists in our community and why it’s such an important cause to Orlando City and all those involved.
So why is this article so personal to me? I grew up in a low-income community similar to Parramore where I lacked access to the literacy skills necessary to succeed. My family had one vehicle; taking trips to the local library were usually sacrificed for trips to the grocery store, especially because I grew up on welfare and gas funds were limited. Instead of reading, exercising, and eating healthy and building those essential skills I resorted to trying to fit in any way I knew how. I was able to get involved with ballet, dancing, and painting which offered a creative release but still did not give me a strong foundation in reading. Eventually by the time I was in middle school I became aware of my weakness in literacy, it became embarrassing and was humiliating, especially since other classmates would tease me when I had trouble in class. The point I’m trying to make is that these skills should have been developing when I was younger. Coming from a personal point of view, one that can relate to those children living in the Parramore community, these types of channels, like Little Free Library and Just 1 Book, are giving communities the opportunity to help foster literacy skills.