New reading room for Sanderlin Center

Darrelle Larondos

BY HOLLY KESTENIS, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG – The James B. Sanderlin Center Library is set to receive some much needed revitalization from the Suncoast Chapter of Jack and Jill of America, Inc. Consisting of a group of mothers and volunteers, Jack and Jill is committed to developing leadership qualities in children through purposeful programming and enrichment activities.

Darrelle Larondos is the chapter’s treasurer and volunteers her time to give back to local youth through tutoring at the center. During her time helping out she realized updates were needed in the reading room of the center.

Larondos noticed kids from the afterschool program, which touches the lives of approximately 200 children, weren’t taking advantage of the room and wanted to encourage kids to read more. So she applied for the MLK Day of Service grant and was pleasantly surprised to be awarded thousands to create a comfortable and inviting place for local children to gather.

“I just think that reading is extremely important,” said Larondos, who is attempting to create an environment that will stimulate creativity in the youth that frequent the afterschool program and motivate them to want to browse for books and utilize the room to read.

Most of the kids that frequent the center and receive services there attend schools identified as nonperforming. Although students are exposed to technology and required reading during school hours, Larondos who is a parent herself, knows the need for the classroom to extend into homes and afterschool facilities.

“You have to be able to read to make it and sometimes those resources aren’t available in the home, so the idea was to provide them with materials outside of the class setting that can help them improve and to make reading just a little more enjoyable,” she said.

So the Suncoast Chapter Jack and Jill ordered new furniture such as tables and chairs, along with beanbags and bookcases. The room will get a fresh coat of paint and inspirational messages are set to don the walls. Decal letters were ordered and quotes from Dr. Seuss will be strategically placed in view so that children can get inspired to read instead of relying solely on computers and video games for entertainment.

“I think Dr. Seuss is a good motivator in terms of reading,” said Larondos.

She hopes that by reading some of his famous quotes, such as “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” and “The more you read the more you know” that the message of continual reading will resonate with them.

“The more positive images that you can have in a child’s face, it starts to sink in.”

A standing Dr. Seuss will also be on hand to brighten the room.

Larondos works to help homeless families that live in shelters or motels find stable homes and provide them with case management so that they can be in a better situation after going through the county’s assistance program.

After 16 years working for the betterment of the community and juveniles in the delinquent system, she notices the small things that could make a big difference.

“I think when it’s all said and done, the kids will really enjoy going in that room,” said Larondos.

Since the majority of the grant went to supplies such as paint, furniture and the like, the Suncoast Chapter of Jack and Jill is planning to ask its mom members to donate books. Any donations of books or money for books from community organizations or businesses would also be accepted and greatly appreciated.

“It goes fast,” she said speaking about the money.

The center has a computer lab in one of its many rooms, so the need is to add as much reading material as possible to entice kids to pick up a book.

“Trying to make it cozy,” she said.  “They have books, but a lot of that stuff is dated.”

Jack and Jill’s goal is to not just do a day of service, but to maintain it throughout the year.

“This is not just a one day project for us,” she said. “It’s something that we will continue to work with and focus on.”

The local chapter of Jack and Jill touches the lives of some 33 families daily. By focusing on children aged 2-19, the organization understands how to improve the quality of life for children so that they may have the opportunity to embark on a positive life journey.

About 20-30 people have participated in some way to get the project going, but volunteers are always welcome. Plans to clear out, prep and paint the room are set for this Saturday at the Sanderlin Center from 10-2 p.m., and the new items will be brought in on MLK Day, Jan. 16 from 1– 4 p.m.

Those interested in helping out in volunteering or donations can email Darrelle Larondos at scjj.ct@gmail.com or Cheryl Bradbury scjj.pres@gmail.com.

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