Jene Rita Alviar, the executive director of Mission Education Projects, Inc., cuts the ribbon at the launch of Garfield Park's new youth book corner.

About 40 kids visited the Youth Community Center at Garfield Square Park on Tuesday for the grand opening of its new lending library, courtesy of the Mission police station.

In the corner of a clubhouse room stood a couple of bookcases. Mission police station officers had found them in a city warehouse and stocked them with about 300 books for children and young adults over the past two months. The books are mostly popular, some educational. About a quarter of the titles were donations purchased by Borderlands Books customers — all together, half were gifts from Borderlands and the other half donations from the public library’s community redistribution program.

Captain Dan Perea said the idea for the library originated when one student from Mission Educational Projects, Inc. (MEPI) asked a sergeant for help with his math homework. It got them thinking about using the clubhouse room as a study area. “So we thought, what if we got some books?” said Perea.

Kids crowd around the newly-installed bookcases at the Garfield Park clubhouse. Books borrowed from the library have no due dates.
Kids crowd around the newly-installed bookcases at the Garfield Park clubhouse. Books borrowed from the library have no due dates.

All but a few of the children, ages 6 to 12, came from MEPI, which provides tutoring and other activities for at-risk youth. The clubhouse is also used by Mission Girls, who are helping to decorate the corner. MEPI students, too, had done some of the decorating and helped put the books on the shelves, selecting some to take home last week, police said.

After watching MEPI executive director Jene Rita Alviar cut a red ribbon held in front of the bookcases, the kids sat at tables to eat cake. Some briefly huddled around titles like “Sally Jean, the Bicycle Queen” to read together.

One 12-year-old, his nose buried in “Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny,” said he might look forward to returning to the reading room. A 9-year-old could only shrug about the new book corner but said she was “happy” to be reading a “Ramona Quimby“ book.

The lending library will be open on weekdays from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., or when officers are available to watch over the room. The books have no due dates. They can be freely borrowed, and if they’re not returned, the police said, they hope the kids share the books with others.

“We want to make sure they have this opportunity (to read),” said Captain Perea. “Some kids don’t have it.”

In addition to MEPI and Mission Girls, Perea said the department was trying to engage children from the nearby Bernal Dwellings neighborhood. Bernal Dwellings office clerk Alexis Robbins said that the day of the book corner’s opening, the police dropped off bundles of park activity schedules and flyers for the upcoming Community Resource Fair, which mentions the new lending library.

Few parents surveyed at Bernal Dwellings knew about the book corner yet. “I was wondering what the festivities over there were,” said one community member. “I noticed a lot of police. I didn’t see a lot of residents.”

A shelf of books donated to the project.
A shelf of books donated to the project.

Parents said their kids would use such a conveniently located lending library — even if they were personally wary of police, who they said have harassed them when they have walked by Garfield Park. “We need more activities over there,” one parent said of the park, who mentioned his niece enjoyed the book corner opening.

“You can’t beat the library, but this is right here,” said Sheeda G., who said her 13-year-old son spends about two hours at the library each week.

Locals noted that Garfield Park has been improving lately. “The park is a little bit better,” said Margarita Sanchez, a preschool teacher’s aide who said her 9-year-old granddaughter stumbled upon teenagers behaving badly in a park bathroom about four months ago. But Sanchez feels the police presence has reduced the frequency of these incidents.

“This used to be a really rough place,” said Captain Perea. Now, “it’s a safe park for kids and a safe park for adults,” he said. “We work on that every day.”

Officers Kaprosch and Redmond chat with children in front of the Garfield Park clubhouse, where the book corner is located.
Officers Kaprosch and Redmond chat with children in front of the Garfield Park clubhouse, where the book corner is located.

Jene Rita Alviar of MEPI said she began bringing their students to the park when police made it secure. “I’ve lived in this neighborhood for 55 years, she said. “I’ve seen what it’s like without a police presence.”

MEPI holds activities at Garfield Park to get some “fresh air” from their 24th and Treat offices and will use the book corner and study room.

Because the books are essentially free to clubhouse visitors, its organizers are hoping community members will continually donate books. “If this is going to work, these books are going to have to be replaced,” said Alan Beatts, the owner of Borderlands. “I would love to see this expanded to high school-age students, too.”

Officer Steven Keith asked Beatts if Borderlands could help with the project.

“When I was the age of these children, many of my best friends were books,” said Beatts. “So giving them access [to books] makes me happier than I can say.”

Beatts said his customers donated to the book corner titles such as “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins, “Sabriel” by Garth Nix and Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game.”

He said he was particularly happy to be participating in “something so positive with the police department,” alluding to tension between the police and residents over recent officer-involved shootings that resulted in a protest barricading Mission Station on Monday.

“I think that in the last few weeks, everyone has only seen the bad side of the job that they do,” Beatts said.

Books can be donated via Borderlands Books on Valencia. Mission Police also invite community members to bring new or used book donations to the Community Resource Faire at Garfield Park from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on April 12.

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J.J. Barrow began reporting for Mission Local in 2010. She once rode the 49 Van Ness-Mission for six hours straight while the rest of the city tuned in to the World Series — until revelry ended the route. She misses hiding in Guerrero's quiet Cafe Petra (now defunct) to write.

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