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Chicago Summer Story: Finding Home at Chicago Public Library

To Elnura and her three children, the Budlong Woods branch is more than a quick stopover from the park or school, it’s a second home.

Kids gather around for a fun magic show on a Saturday morning!

Anchor in Transition

The Budlong Woods branch is buzzing with energy during the summer. Kids are busy completing their Activity Guides, building a replica of their houses, and reading their favorite books. Families sing, dance, and play together. The library is as lively as ever. Joining this joyful chaos is three-year-old Acel. “I love the library!” she beams as she picks out crayons from her Summer Learning Challenge backpack. “She is not kidding; she loves the library so much. We all do,” mother Elnura adds.

Moving from Kazakhstan last December, Elnura’s family has found a supportive community at the Library. “We go every day. The children had challenges adjusting to a new language and culture, but the library has been so helpful in easing our transition,” she explains.  

“We met our first friends here. My children learned English here.”

Elnura

Chicago Public Library serves as an anchor to thousands of families around the city, inviting Chicagoans to learn through free and accessible programs – from free summer activities to homework help throughout the school year. More importantly, the Library serves as a close-knit community connecting people to the neighborhood, the city, and each other.  “It really does feel like a family here,” Librarian Nicole shares.

Acel showing off her masterpiece!

Summer at the Library: Where Learning is a lot of Fun

Halfway through our conversation, the table has transformed into a makeshift workspace for Elnura’s children. Yuma, 9, has a stack of Finn and the Intergalactic Lunchbox books in front of her. Narislam, 7, is making paper prototypes of his pots. Acel, 3, is drawing her latest masterpiece. “They’re so different, in ages, and in interests. I love that the Library has something to get them excited and keep them engaged. It gives me a bit of a break too!” Elnura playfully shares.

Yuma, a voracious reader, enjoys finding a quiet spot at the library to finish a book (or two.) Not even halfway through the Summer Learning Challenge and she has already read over 500 minutes! Narislam, although not as excited about books, is a STEAM learner, interested in building things and hands-on experiments. “Last week, we potted plants and learned about worms. Next week, we’ll release butterflies. I can’t wait,” he cheerily narrates. Acel, the baby of the family loves to color, draw, and learn a new language. “Konichiwa! I can speak Japanese,” she proudly beams. “Where did you learn Japanese?” I ask. “From my friend here. She teaches me Japanese and I teach her Kazakh.” Ah, the wonderful world that is the library!

“Even Narislam who is not as much of a reader like his older sister is now picking up books because he’s participating in the summer challenge and wants to win a t-shirt, too!”

elnura

“We have designed the summer learning program with all kinds of learners in mind. Of course, reading is a big part of it. But so are singing, dancing, and playing. We want children to get excited about learning and develop the attitude that learning can be fun – that learning is fun,” says Shelley Hughes, Director of Children’s Services and Family Engagement.

Keep the Summer Going

Elnura’s family is only one of many families that linger in the Library this Saturday afternoon. The sense of warmth in the branch is special, from children’s laughter to neighbors casually chatting. Library users, no matter the age, enjoys being here. I sure did.

As I say goodbye to Elnura and the children, Acel, asks “What? You’re already leaving? – the undercurrent behind her question, is apparent: Why would you want to leave this cool place? “Aren’t you going home?” I ask right back. “No! I’m having so much fun!” She says with conviction, punctuating her sentiment with a stomp of her left foot. “We will probably stay another hour or two. The children really do love it here,” Elniura smiles.

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Summer Learning at the Library is in full swing through August 14. Free grab-and-go kits, events, hands-on workshops, and more are available for Chicagoans of all ages and stages of life. This donor-powered program is made possible by the generous support of donors like you. For $25, you can bring summer activities, learning resources, and educational workshops for 4 kids.

Special thanks to Helen M. Harrison Foundation, KPMG, Wintrust, Cubs Charities, a McCormick Foundation Fund, Dr. Scholl Foundation, Walter E. Heller Foundation, Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Foundation, and all the donors to the Chicago Public Library Foundation – for making this program possible.