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By Tom Smith
South Pittsburgh Reporter Editor 

CLP Pop-up begins its transformation into ALEC

Original time was up, but the community's need remains

 

The Carnegie Library's Allentown Pop-up will soon transform into the Allentown Learning and Engagement Center with Brashear Association as a partner. Many services will remain, but patrons will no longer be able to check out or return books and DVDs at the site.

When the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh opened the CLP Pop-Up in the fall of 2012 in Allentown it was intended to "pop-up" in the neighborhood and at the end of March 2014 it would pack up and "pop-up" somewhere else.

Allentown was the library's second Pop-up location; prior to popping up at 1206 Arlington Avenue it was located in the Public Market in the Strip District.

The intent of the Pop-up was to provide library services to neighborhood residents who weren't easily able to get to another library, explained Maria Joseph, a Carnegie librarian at the Pop-up. Although there are nearby branches in Mount Washington, Knoxville, Carrick and South Side, they weren't easily accessible to the community.

To help build community engagement in the temporary site, Pop-up staff reached out to partners with similar goals and visions, among them were the Brashear Association, Hilltop Alliance and G-Tech.

As the end of 2013 approached and the March 2014 ending date grew closer, it became apparent to library officials and program participants there was a need in Allentown for the services provided by the Pop-up. In addition to children's programing, the Pop-up was providing computer access, free internet access, in addition to "Adult Swim" hours and more for adults.

The Birmingham Foundation stepped up with support to keep the doors open and utilities on until March 2015, but that wasn't enough to keep the programming going. Ms. Joseph said Brashear Association came forward to be an active partner while they transition from the Pop-up into more of a community center.

Part of that transition will be to move Brashear's after school program from Grandview K-5 into the soon to be rebranded Allentown Learning and Engagement Center (ALEC).

After the end of April, people will no longer be able to take books and DVDs out of or return them to the Pop-up, although there will be a permanent collection of books at the center for browsing. The technology will remain, the computers, tablets and internet service will still be available.

Beginning in May, Brashear staff will be "shadowing" library staff at the Pop-up in preparation for the transition. The new ALEC will have people working there from both organizations.

Christine Gaus, Brashear's director of services, credits the Pop-up staff with taking the initiative to go to their superiors in order to keep the program in Allentown.

There was a lot of encouragement from the community including the Hilltop Alliance and the Allentown Community Development Corp. to keep the resource in the neighborhood, she added.

Renee Greenlee, education coordinator for Brashear, said their relationship with the Pop-up staff began when they started bringing their Grandview after school and summer program kids to take advantage of the library's resources. Those resources included technology and access to technology.

The Pop-up also provided an opportunity to take the students out of the school environment and into the neighborhood and helped them to see what else was possible in a storefront space. She said the kids had a natural connection with the space, the books, and the technology such as using the library's iPads and laptops.

"Through understanding [the library's] needs and what they were seeing, we were able to be open to that conversation when they approached us and asked if we would be willing to consider a partnership so they could stay beyond the 18 months but still have an exit strategy in place," she said.

Ms. Gaus stressed that Brashear wasn't leaving Grandview School, they were just taking the students to a new location with the full support of the school's principal.

"Principal Fisher at Grandview has been wonderful," Ms. Gaus continued. "And has endorsed this concept as part of a community building strategy."

The move to ALEC will also allow Brashear to not only work with the kids they have been at Grandview, but reach additional kids, kids who are still in the neighborhood but may have become too old for the after school program. Brashear will also be able to have extended hours at the new location.

"There aren't a lot of places for kids to go, we all know that," Ms. Gaus said. "This provides one of those home away from home locations they can access."

Ms. Greenlee added ALEC will provide an opportunity for youth to just drop in, something that wasn't possible at the school. When working out of the school, they could only work with the kids in the school and there wasn't an opportunity for other kids to just stop by for an hour and then go do something else.

"At ALEC they'll be able to drop in for an hour or two and be able to go. At the same time, we can still offer specific programming during certain hours," Ms. Greenlee said.

Other community groups without the appropriate space to locate their programs will also be considered for partnering at the Allentown Learning and Engagement Center.

May will be a time to evaluate the adult usage of the facility to see if the space needs to be reconfigured to support all age groups. Ms. Gaus said Brashear has done much with nutrition and healthy eating and the space would lend itself to something like an intergenerational cooking class that would be fun for all ages.

In addition to having Brashear employees at ALEC, there will be library personnel there for about 12 hours a week. Ms. Joseph expected the library staff will work mostly with adults, but they will also be available to help out with the children's programing.

Some of the children's programing the after school program has done in addition to health and wellness and cooking lessons included: African drum and dance; Creative movement with the Pittsburgh Ballet; Picture Pals, a cross culture art exchange program; a Strong Women Strong Girls site; worked with the Hilltop Computer Center; and did science projects and a music program among others.

There is also homework help and academic remediation for kids.

"It's a blend of things that we hope puts a little more fun in learning, it's a little more informal, but we do get down to business with helping kids meet school standards," Ms. Gaus said.

"Our program is a pretty good mix of activities and academics. So we really work on enriching their lives," Ms. Greenlee said. "Through our partnerships we've been so lucky to have all these different partners come to the school and share their knowledge with the kids."

"I think this is a good way to build upon the good work the library has already done and will continue to do in the neighboring branches and we can be a part of building those bridges between the school and the community in particular," Ms. Greenlee said.

The future of ALEC beyond March 2015 is contingent upon continued funding.

"For Brashear this is a little bit of a stretch and a little bit of a risk, but it's something we think is really important to the community as well and we're willing to take that risk. But it is a risk and there's no guarantee that we'll be able to secure support for an additional year," Ms. Gaus said.

Ms. Joseph said after March 2015 the Carnegie Library will continue to reach out in the Hilltop with programing.

As of May 1, the hours for ALEC will be Monday through Thursday from 12 to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 12 to 5 p.m. In addition to the Birmingham Foundation's support of the Pop-up continuing, the Grable Foundation has supported Brashear's education programs.

 

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