Taking Stock

by Mary-Catherine Harrison, Director, Rx for Reading Detroit

I’m a sucker for New Year’s resolutions (even though I’ll probably break them come January), but for me the end of the year is also a time to give thanks and take stock. With Rx for Reading, that includes taking actual stock of the books we gave to our many community partners this year. Luckily, an Excel spreadsheet does much of that work for us!

In 2018, we were able to distribute 29,585 books: 22,880 gently used books donated by individuals and groups all around Metro Detroit and 6,705 new books that we were able to purchase with monetary donations so that children can have the excitement and pride of owning a brand new book of their own. Our goal for this semester is to reach 125,000 books distributed to kids and families in our community.

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The Rx for Reading table at the UCFHS Math and Science Fair

The end of the year (and beginning of the winter semester) is also a time to take stock of the books we have on hand and the requests we need to fill. When I started Rx for Reading in 2014 I had no idea that supply chain management would be such a critical feature of the work! Balancing books in and books out can be a delicate dance, but it always seems to work out in the end. This fall we had a bit of stress when we depleted our entire stock of picture books, but at the critical moment we received several monetary donations from new and long-time supporters and small grants from the Ford Fund and the Detroit Mercy Mission Micro Grant Program. After placing several huge orders from the First Book National Book Bank, we were back up and running.

Every monetary donation we receive goes straight to work–and each donation makes an enormous impact. In case you missed it, you can see what as little as $10 can accomplish in a recent blog post.

Towards the end of the semester we also received four large donations of books that will get us off to a good start this January. These donations give a good sense of the diverse groups of folks who collect books on our behalf: the Robocubs Team at University of Detroit Jesuit, the Birmingham Country Club Book Club, Talia, a seventh grader who collected books as a community service project for her Bat Mitzvah, and Elijah, a high schooler who collected books for his Eagle Scout project. I have this refrain in my head most days–It truly takes a village.

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At the César Chávez Elementary School Library, which was sponsored in honor of Sara and Joe Gifford

Much of our day-to-day work is spent working to meet the needs of our many community partners. We recently calculated that we have provided over 20,000 books to eight different clinics run by the Arab American Chaldean Council, one of our first and most dedicated community partners! Every week student volunteers read in Head Start classrooms and help each child pick a new book to take home and keep.

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Connor Batcheller reads to the kids at Beatty Early Learning Center

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Mike Tartaglia reads to the kids at Beatty Early Learning Center

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An exciting bit in the book!

One highlight this year was establishing new Rx for Reading free community libraries at four different schools–César Chávez Early Elementary in Southwest Detroit, Dove Academy on the East Side, Adams Upper Elementary School in Westland, and the Beatty Early Learning Center in Ypsilanti. These libraries are now an integral part of their school communities, where children can choose books to “Take, Read, Share” at any time. Another highlight was “upgrading” the Washtenaw WIC Clinic–from a bookcase to a beautiful rainbow library–in honor of Elayne Hack, a lifelong lover of books. John Mio continues to be extraordinarily generous, donating his time and talent to building each and every one of our libraries.

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Diary of a Wimpy Kid!

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From the Dove Academy Library Launch

Since the beginning, the daily operations of Rx for Reading have been run by students at University of Detroit Mercy. Without them we simply wouldn’t exist (and I would fall to pieces!). It was both exciting and sad when our longtime student coordinator, Emma Mucci, graduated this May. Emma dedicated hundreds upon hundreds of hours to Rx for Reading, including managing volunteer hours for scores of students in my service learning courses. This academic year the core members of the Rx for Reading team are Chanel Smith, who reads at Emmanuel Head Start and makes virtually all of our pickups and deliveries, Temperance Baker, who manages our donations and deliveries (and tries to create order among the chaos!), Jency Shaji, who reads at All About Kids Head Start and helps with book sorting, and Hannah Tillman, who does whatever else needs doing. Brittany Derr, our longtime reader at Summer Preschool, which is just a few blocks away from campus, is also graduating, but Nurzahan Rahman graciously stepped in and took over reading in the school’s Head Start and Great Start classrooms.

There is so much more I could talk about, but suffice it to say I am grateful for the year we have had and looking forward to the year to come. There is always more to be done.

Thank you to each and every one of our volunteers, donors, partners, and friends. You have given children with limited access to books the opportunity to read. What could be more valuable? Of course we would be happy for your end-of-year (or any time of year) donations of money, books, or time. Please subscribe to our blog; follow us on Facebook or Twittertell your friends; and keep in touch.

Together, WE ARE

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Rx for Reading Community Libraries–Making Space for Reading!

In a city characterized as a “book desert,” how do you grow an environment that is rich with print?

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Rx for Reading Library at Hamtramck Neighborhood Center, painted by design historian and educator Grace Vandervliet.

Our answer is that reading can happen anywhere, so books need to be everywhere. Over the last two years Rx for Reading has established over 30 community libraries in Detroit, Hamtramck, and Highland Park, in addition to our 15 clinic libraries in health, dental, and WIC clinics. These little houses for books can be found in community centers, churches, schools, shelters, and more. At each Rx for Reading Community Library children and families are invited to choose books to “Take, Read, Share!”–over 15,000 books in all, in addition to 55,000 books distributed through our other programs.

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Choosing books from the Developing K.I.D.S. library!

“As the ultimate portable object, books move from community spaces into the home environments of children, where they have been shown to have such a powerful impact on literacy and academic success.”  

Mary-Catherine Harrison, Ph.D. from “Rx for Reading Detroit: Place-Based Social Justice Pedagogy” (Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, Spring 2017)

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Painting the library at Hamtramck Neighborhood Center. Hamtramck Neighborhood Center is our only community partner with not one but two libraries–they are shared by the kids and seniors who use the Center.

“The Hamtramck Neighborhood Center has been transformed so that the community, seniors and youth can receive services in a safe inviting space. Seniors come during the day for wellness and health classes and activities. The youth come after school and during the summer for great exposure to recreation, art, cooking and yoga classes. Both groups use the “reading lounge” to relax and enjoy a good book donated by Rx for Reading Detroit.”

Gregory Everett, LMSW, Executive Director of People’s Community Services of Metropolitan Detroit.

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The Reading Lounge at Hamtramck Neighborhood Center.

Rx for Reading libraries are not only resources for the community; they are created through a community effort. Our community partners serve as library stewards, helping to keep the libraries safe and stocked with books. Building materials are purchased with monetary donations from our generous supporters, who also donate books to help keep them filled. John Mio Woodworking volunteers their labor and many painters have volunteered their artistic expertise, including kids who use the libraries! If you would like to sponsor an Rx for Reading Community Library, a donation of $150 places a library with a new community partner. Every $20 purchases 10 new books for kids to “Take, Read, Share!” Give here: https://impact.udmercy.edu/rxreading

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Rx for Reading Library at the Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation, painted by Beth Reeck, art student at the Stamps School of Art and Design. Last summer eleven local artists painted Rx for Reading community libraries at Stamps, a project organized by Rebekah Modrak, Associate Professor of Art at University of Michigan.

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Rx for Reading Library at Delray Neighborhood House, painted by Adrian Deva, painter and art educator at University of Michigan. Delray House offers kids in Southwest Detroit opportunities to develop physically, academically, and socially through their after-school program, playground, game room, museum of local artifacts, and even a miniature theatre!

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An extra special Rx for Reading Library at Detroit Public Library, seen here with Crystal Jolly, Children’s Librarian of the DPL Parkman Branch. This “book monster” library was painted by Michigan artist David Zinn.

Thank you to every one of our supporters and our community partners who have “made space” for reading! Together we are raising readers and leaders in our community.


A Little Free Library’s New Home on Campus

The latest Rx for Reading Detroit free library is inside the McNichols Campus Library at University of Detroit Mercy.  Visitors to the library are invited to choose books to “Take, Read, Share” and donate their own books to help keep the library stocked. The McNichols Campus Library is open to the public and serves as a valuable resource for students and members of the community.UDM LFLThe steward for the library, Megan Novell, is on the staff of the McNichols Campus Library and is an adjunct English instructor at University of Detroit Mercy. She also designed and painted the library!  The Detroit Mercy library joins over 40 other free libraries installed by Rx for Reading Detroit.

UDM LFL with Megan Novell

Rx for Reading at Dickinson West Elementary School!

This September, as kids across the country get back into the swing of the school year, the students at Dickinson West Elementary in Hamtramck, MI are the proud new owners of an Rx for Reading library, along with a collection of 300 books they can “Take, Read, Share.”


According to a recent study on “Book Deserts” published in Urban Education, researchers found only one book available for purchase for every 42 children in Hamtramck.  This makes it one of the lowest-access communities for children’s books in Michigan.  The Rx for Reading library will be a free resource for all of the children and families at Dickinson West, and teachers and community members will help keep it stocked with books that children can take home, read, and keep.


Ms. Bosnjakovsi, 5th grade teacher at Dickinson West, Stuart Tucker, Hamtramck resident and Adjunct faculty of English at University of Detroit Mercy, and Rx for Reading Director Mary-Catherine Harrison.

Ms. Suzana Bosnjakovski’s 5th graders will serve as official library stewards after being “deputized” by Rx for Reading Director Mary-Catherine Harrison at the library unveiling.  Thank you to Ms. Bosnjakovski, Dickinson West Principal Corey Pitts, and the entire Dickinson West community for their support of literacy and reading in Hamtramck.

Next up: Dickinson East!

Rx for Reading at Shekinah Tabernacle!

One of the guiding principles of Rx for Reading is that reading happens everywhere. We work to put books anywhere they can get in the hands and hearts of children in Detroit.

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Our latest “home” for reading is the Shekinah Tabernacle Gospel Church at 16900 West Chicago.

Shekinah Tabernacle offers a broad range of programming for children in their congregation and the surrounding community.

Thank you to the Shekinah family and to Pastor Reggie Huff and his wife Linda Huff for inviting the latest Rx for Reading Library into their church community. Just look at these happy readers!!!

“The kids love ‘their’ library!” Linda Huff




The Greatest Gifts are the Ones We Give

This holiday season, there is a whole lot of reading going on across Detroit!

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Rx for Reading at Waller Health Center

In 2015, Rx for Reading distributed 20,000 books to babies, toddlers, kids, and teens in our community. At our 18 Rx for Reading Clinic Libraries, children at health, dental, and WIC clinics choose a book to take home at every visit. At our 3 Head Start partners, preschoolers read with UDM college students and choose a new book to take home every two weeks. And this fall, we expanded our Free Community Library Initiative by installing 12 Rx for Reading Little Free Libraries in community organizations across Detroit.

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Rx for Reading at Detroit Center for Family Advocacy

The Rx for Reading Free Community Library Initiative helps integrate literacy into the work of community organizations already serving children, teens, and families in our community.  Each library is delivered to its new home along with a collection of 250 books, and everyone visiting the libraries is invited to choose a book to read and take home.


Rx for Reading at LA SED (Latin Americans for Social and Economic Development)

We could not be more proud to partner with these incredible organizations: St. Christine’s Soup Kitchen, LA SED (Latin Americans for Social and Economic Development), Capuchin Services CenterCabrini ClinicCOTS Detroit, Detroit Center for Family Advocacy, Covenant House, Butzel Family Center, Don Bosco Hall Community Resource Center, Leland Baptist Church, and Spectrum Health’s Lincoln and Calumet Residential Treatment Facilities.

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Rx for Reading at the Don Bosco Hall Community Resource Center

Rx for Reading Clinic Libraries and Little Free Libraries create community spaces that celebrate reading and allow thousands of children to choose books to read, love, and keep.

We are so grateful to each and every one of the generous donors and volunteers who made our work possible this year.  Hundreds of individuals gave their time, money, expertise, and books.

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Rx for Reading at Bright Beginnings

Thank you for giving the gift of reading to Detroit’s next generation of readers and leaders.




It Takes a Village to Build a Village of Little Free Libraries!

School of Architecture students with some of the Little Free Libraries Rx for Reading will be distributing throughout the city.

UDM Architecture students with some of the libraries Rx for Reading will be distributing throughout Detroit.

What an incredible day!  Over 30 volunteers came together to make our latest literacy initiative a reality–building and painting 12 Rx for Reading Little Free Libraries that Rx for Reading will place with community organizations all over the city, including COTS Shelter and LA Sed Youth Center.  Rx for Reading will deliver each library with a collection of 250 books for kids and teens, helping community partners support reading and literacy for the families they serve.


John Mio of John Mio Woodworking not only volunteered his time to build the libraries, but also worked all day to help get them painted and ready for delivery.

John Mio and Mike Casey volunteered their time and expertise to build the libraries.  15 incredible volunteers from Kohl’s stores in West Bloomfield, Troy, and Westland, MI painted the libraries and sorted and packed over 1,250 children’s books to fill them.  UDM School of Architecture students finished the roof designs, which were created by local artist Rebekah Modrak.  UDM students helped at every stage of the process.

Kohl's believes that everybody has the ability to make a difference. Since 2001, over 1,000,000 Kohl's employees have volunteered their time to community organizations through the Kohl's Cares Associates in Action program, and Kohl's has supported their volunteers with over $97 million in grants to the nonprofits they have served.

Since 2001, over 1,000,000 Kohl’s employees have volunteered their time to community organizations through the Kohl’s Cares Associates in Action program, and Kohl’s has supported their volunteers with over $97 million in grants to the nonprofits they have served.


University of Detroit Mercy painter Ron Heurtebise helped direct the Kohl’s volunteer crew.


Fr. Gilbert Sunghera, SJ, with students in his Architecture studio course as they work on final touches.


Rx for Reading Executive Director Mary-Catherine Harrison and Student Coordinator Sara Zawacki.


The end result, ready for delivery!

Thank you to everyone who gave their time, talent, energy, and generosity to help build this village.  These little libraries will have an enormous impact in our community.

RX for Reading at Cabrini Clinic

We are thrilled to announce the launch of our second RX for Reading Little Free Library, outside of St. Frances Cabrini Clinic, the oldest free clinic in the country.  

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Located at 1234 Porter Street in historic Corktown, Cabrini provides primary care, prescription assistance, and mental health care to uninsured patients, as well as offering community education classes like healthy cooking and yoga.  The library’s location is perfect, surrounded by community garden beds, next door to the Murphy Playlot, and around the block from Most Holy Trinity School.

Thank you to the Executive Director of Cabrini, Kelly Herron, MAPS, and Alisa Smith, DPN, Clinical Nurse Manager and University of Detroit Mercy alumna.  Alisa will serve as official library steward.  RX for Reading filled it to the brim with 100 books and delivered another 350 to help keep it replenished with great books for kids.

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Extra special incredible thanks to Americorps VISTA volunteers Erik Krieger and Maya Faison, who built and “planted” the library for RX for Reading Detroit.  They have created something new and lasting for this Detroit neighborhood!

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Material support for the RX for Reading Little Free Library was provided by a Mission Micro Grant from the University of Detroit Mercy.

RX for Reading and Detroit Little Free Libraries

One of our goals at RX for Reading Detroit is to help grow a culture of reading. 

That goal is perfectly aligned with the Little Free Libraryinternational Little Free Library movement, which aims to “plant” tiny libraries in public spaces across the globe–in parks, on streetcorners, by schools and bus stops.

Detroit Little LibrariesDetroit Little Libraries is working to make our city the Little Free Library Capital of the World.  Their ambitious goal: plant 313 of these bird houses for books in Detroit.

Our own RX for Reading Little Free Library on McNichols and Oak Street has already distributed over 500 children’s books to kids in our community.

We were thrilled to share the love with another Little Free Library at the Detroit Loves You Guest Home in the Virginia Park neighborhood.  Proprietor Nathan Andren picked up 300 books from RX for Reading to help keep this fabulous Little Free Library on Hazelwood Street stocked with great picks for children and teens.  Thanks, Nathan, for helping bring books to the heart of the city!

The newly stocked library at Detroit Loves You Guest Home.

The newly stocked library at the Detroit Loves You Guest Home.

From Nathan Andren, proprietor of the Detroit Loves you Guest Home:

Detroit Loves You Guest Home, Where Your Visit Helps Uplift and Transform Detroit.  Established in 2010, DLY was the first of over 400 Airbnbs that are now operating in Detroit. Our mission is to facilitate guests’ meaningful experiences with Detroit and Detroiters, while their stays benefit the Virginia Park neighborhood and city at large. We do this by setting aside 10% of gross revenue for neighborhood organizations like the Hazelwood Block Club, external property improvements such as our community garden, and neighborhood and citywide initiatives like Detroit Little Free Library Capital of the World.

RX for Reading Little Free Library in Gesu Community Green!

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The newest addition to the University of Detroit Mercy neighborhood is the RX for Reading Little Free Library in the Gesu Community Green!  Little Free Libraries are community gathering spaces where neighbors can read, borrow, and share books with others in their community.  The Gesu Community Green, a neighborhood park at McNichols and Oak Drive on the west side of Detroit, is the perfect spot for our first RX for Reading Little Free Library.

Special thanks to the University of Detroit Mercy Mission Micro Grant program for material support and Emilie and Terry Wetherington for building and installing the library.  RX for Reading will keep the library stocked with children’s books for all kids in the community to enjoy.


We had a great time at the “Bookies and Cookies” library launch party (you can see video of the “official” unveiling on YouTube).  The celebration was made possible by UDM undergraduate volunteers Samantha Schurg, Sydney Rozycki, Robiane Banks, and Kristin Hnatio and volunteers from the UDM School Psychology graduate program led by Dr. Erin Henze: Fatimah Muhammad, Heather Bishop, Sandybel Quintana, Nikia Duncan, and Alicia Burditt.


Thank you also to Gesu Volunteer Coordinator Anita Sevier, who helped make a home for the RX for Reading Little Free Library; to the UDM Titans who helped “plant” the library and celebrate its unveiling; to the kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd graders at Gesu School who welcomed the library to their neighborhood and promised to serve as “special library stewards”; and to all of the guests who helped make the library launch a huge success, including Margaret Auer, Dean of University Libraries at University of Detroit Mercy, Christa Laurin, Principal of Gesu School, and Fr. Nathan Wendt, Associate Pastor of Gesu Church.


Come visit the RX for Reading Little Free Library, borrow a book, or bring some to share with neighbors!