Editor's Note: John McCarthy is the executive director of SCOPE.

Energized and inspired by The Harwood Institute's Lab hosted by The Patterson Foundation, small teams of newly trained Public Innovators have spent a year reaching outward and listening deeply to the aspirations, concerns and solutions offered by a diverse group of community members. Armed with new insight into what is important to people, and how we can make our communities better, the public innovators were leaning forward and asking what’s next?

This question was answered in our latest Innovation Space workshop conducted by Harwood Institute Coach Bill Booth with the assistance of our local guides on the side. The answer to our question was clear - it’s time to move from aspirations to action. In the words of Rich Harwood, “It’s time to paint the schoolhouse!”

For the SCOPE team, action to us means following up with one of the groups of Latino residents we met in the community of Palmetto. Like most groups, their expressed aspirations included safety and educational opportunities for youth. Listening deeper, we learned that they were hungry for a place for learning right in their own neighborhood.

Their vision included books – a small library in their tiny converted-apartment community room. While their desire to bring learning to their children was huge – their vision was for something very simple: if they only had a bookshelf with books on it and if they could only have the community room opened more than one day a week. They weren’t looking for much – but they knew the results would be great.

So as we plan our return visit, we wonder if they have found the shelf and stocked it with books, and if they have been able to get the room opened more often – so that it can really serve the community. But if they have not, we think we may be able to help them with their dream.

Communities all over the country are installing little free libraries – often home-made “mailboxes on steroids” mounted on a post in the neighborhood - where everyone has access to books to borrow, books to read and books to inspire. With a little scrap wood in the hands of neighbors, they could create their very own “little free libraries.” There is no doubt that members of our team can help them find a source of books. No longer limited by the locked door of the community room – the little free libraries will release the freedom that learning provides, while engaging the neighbors themselves in painting their miniature school-houses.

photo credit: ♥ in a book via photopin (license)


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