January 11, 2019
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Public libraries are helping their communities get fit

Here are three stories on how local innovation can make a difference in everyday lives

Seniors take part in the Taylor County Public Library’s Chair Yoga class. Offered once a week, this free class is led by volunteers in the Campbellsville, Kentucky community. Photo courtesy of Taylor County Public Library

Each week, The Renewal Project shares three stories from around the country that highlight the innovative solutions people are creating in their communities. In this edition, see how libraries are filling a new need in their communities, how a New York organization is bridging a divide between two communities with a painful past, and how a second grader learned about charity through YouTube. What are the innovative ideas in your hometown? Tell us at info@therenewalproject.com.


Working out your body and mind: Drop into a yoga studio for a class and you can expect to pay anywhere from $12 to $20. But libraries across the country increasingly are offering free fitness classes as a way to engage residents and strengthen communities. According to a 2014 report from the American Library Association, 23 percent of libraries surveyed offer fitness classes and 18 percent offer health screenings. Just scan the events page of the Taylor County Public Library in Campbellsville, Kentucky, and you’ll find pilates, vinyasa yoga, chair yoga, and teen yoga classes. “[The fitness classes are] definitely filling a gap somewhere in our community, especially in small towns in the South,” Jessie Yates, the adult programming librarian, told The Outline.

Libraries often serve as a community’s central gathering space. And with so many library resources moving online—from ebooks to audiobooks—space that would have been taken up by books is now open. Libraries across the country are being creative with their space while meeting their residents’ needs. In Michigan, librarians are starting seed libraries whereby they “loan” seeds to local residents, who then typically harvest the crops and “return” the seeds as a way to replenish the collection. In California, libraries also serve as a refuge for some of their most vulnerable residents—those who are homeless. And in Utah, libraries are joining the fight against opioid epidemic by providing drug overdose-reversing kits.


Healing historical divisions: Although they share an island, Haiti and the Dominican Republic also share a painful and fraught past, divided by culture and conflict. An event series in Harlem aims to bridge cultural divides by bringing together New Yorkers of Haitian and Dominican descent to learn about their countries’ pasts, engage in intimate discussions with each other, and share their respective cultures. Hosted by In Cultured Company, Decolonizing Hispaniola reflects the organization’s mission to “sow the seeds of peace, conflict resolution, reconciliation, collaboration, and dialog in young black and Latinx leaders in order to move from a divided past towards a shared future.” Read more about one of their recent events—here attendees enjoyed a beloved dish as a unifying component.


Learning the lesson of giving at an early age: Screen time isn’t all bad. A YouTube video inspired 9-year-old Nathan Simons of Rock Island, Illinois, to donate his life’s savings to a local homeless shelter. His dad Ethan was a little concerned when his son told him his plan. “There was part of me that almost wanted me to talk him out of him,” Ethan told WQAD. “But what kind of lesson am I teaching him if I tell him, ‘No, you shouldn’t be selfless.'” Ethan even matched his son’s donation and the two of them each took out $150 from their accounts and went shopping for supplies for the shelter. The local shelter, Christian Care, told the Simons they needed shoes, gloves, and kitchen condiments.

The Renewal Project

The Renewal Project is Allstate’s platform to support local problem solvers who are strengthening their neighborhoods block by block.