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Deanna Hayden: Energizing Reading in the West End, One House at a Time

January 2018

Spelman Student Deanna HaydenComparative women’s studies major Deanna Hayden, C'2019, channeled her volunteer experiences into an effective community service initiative. Her "House of Knowledge" (HOK) project is a comprehensive reading program that targets children in grades K-8th, who are at the pinnacle of progressive educational impact. 

Hayden has been volunteering at Paul L. Dunbar Elementary since she began her journey at Spelman College. While volunteering, she quickly became aware of the staggering low reading test scores of many African American children in Georgia, and she felt compelled to assist in empowering the children in her community. Her love of service stems from her upbringing in Lorman, Mississippi where she was exposed to educational programs such as the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF). The programs made her realize that children must be encouraged to learn in a supportive and fun environment.

In a gentle way, you can shake the world. -- Gandhi

Hayden's House of KnowledgeHayden began planning the HOK project in fall 2016, and she successfully implemented the project during the fall 2017 semester. Developed to motivate all members of the community to take part in educating children, the project was initiated with the support of the Spelman College Bonner Office, facilities management maintenance team, and various campus organizations.

The colorful House of Knowledge libraries were designed to capture the attention of young children and their parents. The project concept is simple; participants were asked to read a book, take a book, or add a book to the House of Knowledge collection. Each House of Knowledge was placed in a location where children frequent such as churches, recreation centers, shelters, and doctor's offices. Hayden recognizes that reading is fundamental and everyone can play an important role in energizing reading among our children. She also believes children need an opportunity to fall in love with reading and she hopes that placing books around the West End will encourage children to share what they have read with others.

Development and Execution  

Deanna HaydenHayden credits her success to the support of Andrea Irvin, Ronnie Baldwin, and Vincent Crockett. Their enthusiasm helped boost the project and indeed made this what she calls a “Staff-Student” collaboration. Once they agreed to build the libraries and provide a portion of the funds, the task was 50 percent complete.

In between classes, Hayden visited local businesses, churches, and youth centers to gain support for placing the HOKs within their organizations. On Nov.r 18, 2017, Hayden conducted a service day, which fast-tracked the House of Knowledge Project in ways she could not imagine. Spelman organizations volunteered to paint the HOK libraries and donated books for each of the eight libraries created. 

Hayden spearheaded the project and the follow-up to make sure each organization presented their HOK to the supporting business. Each Spelman organization that supported the project was given a specific business to continually support by replenishing the books and keeping the HOK in tiptop shape. The work was long and tedious, said Hayden, but she admits she is not one to give up.  Through her persistent effort, she met her goal of placing eight boxes in various business in the West End.

The Future Seems Bright                                                                                 

Spelman Student's Literacy ProjectHayden plans to implement this idea for the 2018 academic year and hopes it will become an annual event for the Spelman community. She envisions two to four additional HOKs per semester to increase the presence and to help keep the accessibility to books available to children wherever they are located in the area.
Hayden understands that real impact begins within our communities, and her goal is to meet children where they are no matter the circumstance. She is hopeful that Spelman will collaborate with other organizations in the West End to discuss the opportunities for more educational enrichment programs. As a supporter of community-university collaborations, the HOK project is just the beginning of what could result in the dramatic increase in reading scores of school-aged children in the West End.

In the meantime, Hayden will continue to gather ideas and support in hopes of reminding everyone that readers are leaders and leaders are readers!

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