Summer library program builds lasting bonds
Some people might imagine that libraries are bland, reverent, and silent places where children are ”shushed” and fun is discouraged, but that is not the case during the summer months at Washington County Public Library in Chatom.
Silly songs, laughter, conversations, and brightly colored banners, streamers, and artwork are instead the norm during the library’s annual WCPL Summer Learning Program.
The program runs from June 5 to July 28, with around 300 children participating each year. Summer weekdays are full of story times, art classes, yoga, exotic animals, interactive science activities, and so much more.
One of the most anticipated programs this summer is the upcoming “Stuffy Slumber Party” where kids are invited to drop off their stuffed animals for a sleepover in the library. The children and parents enjoy social media posts about their stuffy’s shenanigans and then join them for a pancake breakfast the next morning.
Each week of the program wraps up with a Friday night outdoor movie. Some of the showings this summer include "The Sandlot'' and “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.” The library provides freshly popped popcorn and cold drinks, and community members are invited to bring a blanket or a lawn chair to enjoy the free show and refreshments.
Another fun event this summer is Kiddie Yoga. The Well at Chatom Yoga and Wellness Studio, https://www.chatomyoga.com, will be hosting the classes each Wednesday in July at the library.
Chloe Wofford, owner and instructor of The Well, volunteers her time to provide the classes at the library. She said, “Kiddie Yoga is so much fun! Kids are experts at knowing when and how their bodies need to move, and kiddie yoga gives them an intentional space to direct that moving energy.”
Wofford and her children are regular participants at WCPL who look forward to summer programs at the library all year long.
While each day has a new and exciting program, children and teens are also encouraged to read for fun and for prizes in a reading contest throughout June. A prize for Top Reader will be awarded, and participants will be entered for other prizes each time they attend programs and read books.
These prizes will be awarded at the Reading Awards Waterslide Party on June 28, according to Children's Program Coordinator Beth Roney.
Roney began as the Children’s Program Coordinator in 2021. She said one of her favorite parts of her job is watching children explore, learn, and expand their imaginations.
She also enjoys sharing the program with her 5-year-old daughter Macon. Macon said she is excited to see the dancers, snakes, and story time activities in addition to eating lunch every day.
Much like her daughter, Roney said when she participated in the program as a child her favorite memory was “learning about the snakes and frogs during a Reptile Education program.”
As a teenager, Roney worked at the library as a summer intern. She explained how her fellow student workers at WCPL are still some of her best friends. Roney said the student workers are vital to making the program run efficiently.
Chloe Wofford also worked at the library when she moved to the community seven years ago. She, too, cherishes friendships from the program. Her favorite memories are decorating late at night and anticipating the kids' faces as they got to experience their work.
Summer internships at WCPL provide students with diverse skill sets and unique job experiences that are rare in a rural community. Students are given opportunities to serve in their community while learning valuable transferable skills for any future career, such as problem-solving, program planning, customer service, teamwork, and time management.
Allie Floyd, a 17-year-old summer worker and rising senior, said her time as a child participating in the program influenced her decision to later become a summer intern.
She said, “The Summer Learning Program opens up creativity in all aspects. It not only gives the kids opportunities to find new interests, but it also opens the door for the student workers to help younger children and build relationships with adult leaders in the community, too.”
Floyd is one of 15 summer workers for the 2023 program. These workers began their summer by decorating the library, ceiling to floor, in coordination with this year’s statewide theme, “All Together Now.” Student workers prepared for the summer by decorating the WCPL science corner with educational information and activities, covering windows with inspirational quotes from books, hanging streamers and banners, and training to supervise the library’s summer lunch and snack program.
Each summer WCPL partners with Feeding the Gulf Coast to provide free lunch and afternoon snacks for youth 18 and under right after or before each daily program.
Haley Platt, WCPL’s Feeding the Gulf Coast Program Supervisor, said, “Our partnership with Feeding the Gulf Coast provides free fresh, healthy meals and snacks for children throughout the community regardless of their background. It's reassuring to know that children are not going hungry and that we can ensure they are provided a nutritious meal during the program. It is a wonderful help to parents and families, too!”
Washington County Public Library and its many partners collaborate to make sure all of the moving parts of the Summer Learning Program work to create a lasting effect on community members, whether they be preschoolers or small business owners. Wofford said she believes what sets WCPL apart is its love for the community and the drive to make its programs as inclusive and meaningful as possible.
This year's slogan is posted in huge letters on the front wall of the library. It reads “Libraries put the Unity in Community'' in bright green and blue letters and sums up the WCPL Summer Learning Program’s role.