By Marianna Reilly
February 13, 2012 — Casita Maria Center for Arts and Education, a Catholic Charities agency that has been serving youth in the South Bronx since 1934, recently launched a new library and reading program for children in need.
The program, created with the help of Catholic Charities volunteers through the New York Times Neediest Cases Fund and NYC Service Volunteer Project, is enriching Casita’s services in the South Bronx and engaging local teenagers in volunteerism.
“We can improve our reading skills by having more book choices in our library,” says tenth grade student Zoila Rodriquez who, along with 40 fellow teens donates her time as a volunteer reader.
The new library initially hoped to house 500 new books. But thanks to successful volunteer efforts, the library has more than doubled its goal. Catholic Charities donated more than 500 books through its annual Christmas toy drive, volunteer efforts triggered the donation of 500 more, and book donations continue piling in.
To help house this multitude of books, Catholic Charities donated funds to help transform a drab conference room into a library with wall-to-wall oak and pine shelving and glass shelf doors. Catholic Charities also funded the transportation of more than 50 Casita Maria children and staff members to a New York Times event to celebrate these new volunteer initiatives on February 2.
Foster Alcantara, a teenager who helped lead the book drive, drew huge applause when he accepted the award from the NYC Service Volunteer Project on behalf of Casita Maria.
“I dream of the day when I hear a famous person interviewed saying ‘I learned to read at Casita Maria,’” Alcantra told the crowd gathered at the Times Center in midtown Manhattan.
On February 8, Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan visited Casita Maria to bless the new library, meet with the children, and listen to a musical performance by some of the youth from Casita Maria music programs.
Casita Maria moved to the South Bronx from the agency’s original location in East Harlem in 1961. Their programs include homeless services, drug rehabilitation, violence prevention, gang intervention, teen pregnancy prevention, and much more.