Tree House Books is a literacy enrichment center in North Philadelphia that has a main initiative called “Life with Books,” composed of three parts. They include a Giving Library (pay what you wish community bookstore), Words on Wheels (book delivery service), and Book Camps for the neighborhood children.
I first became acquainted with Tree House books as a college student in 2010, when a friend asked me to join her in volunteering there once a week. Through that experience, I got to know Mike Roberson-Reid, the executive Director, and Lauren Popp, the Program Director. Over the years since graduating college, I’ve continued to be a part of Circle of Hope, which partners with Tree House through our Compassion Team, Friends of Tree House books. Through that, I’ve recently met their new Director of Community Engagement, Charlyn Griffith. These three admirable people have taught me a lot just by the way they lead, and I am glad North Philly is home to such inspired folks.
This year has been an especially exciting year to partner with Tree House, as I’ve seen many changes and growth within the organization. Tree House truly is a beacon in North Philly as they aim to create a “community of readers, writers, and thinkers.” One of the many ways they do this is through Words on Wheels, a program in which volunteer bicyclists deliver books to children in the neighborhood during the ‘summer slump.’ The goal is to engage the kids and help them to maintain what they’re learning during the school year. Circle of Hope’s compassion team has partnered with Tree House in this way in past summers, which is what brings me to the story I’d like to share.
Last summer, I found myself at Tree House having a conversation with Mike after prepping for Words on Wheels. I was telling him how my church was forming a new compassion team for the Black Lives Matter movement. I felt challenged when he asked, “Does your church really believe that? I personally believe one of the best ways for people to show that they really feel that black lives matter is to provide books with representation to black kids. If black children and youth are not reading books with black characters, engaging and learning can be difficult. If kids don’t have the chance to relate to characters that look like them, how will they know they are important?” I’m deeply thankful that Mike asked me this question, for its directness and for its truth.
I took our conversation to the Compassion Core team and we discussed options. Through more dialogue, it quickly became apparent that we agreed with Mike and wanted to proclaim that, “Yes, Circle of Hope does believe that Black Lives Matter.” We decided that a donation for this endeavor was more than appropriate, and I presented a check on behalf of Circle of Hope during one of their Book Club events in February. Presenting Tree House Books with $1000 for books with representation was such a humbling and exciting experience. It was a tangible way for Jesus to make known that generating justice through hope are at the heart of his, and our, work.
North Philly is home to so many gifted, intelligent, and creative children who have systemically been denied basic educational resources. I am thankful to be a part of a community in Jesus that is willing to see that injustice and actively work to change it. Tree House runs seasonal book camps (an evolvement from their former after-school tutoring program), and the money for books with representation has already been used to buy books for the Camps. I was thrilled to see this partnership in action, and recognize how practicing generosity as a community of people can be an illuminating way to show light, truth, and love.
I’m continually encouraged by what is happening at Tree House Books, and I’d like to offer some ways to engage. On a monthly basis, Tree House holds People’s Assemblies that align with their Book Club themes. The first Tuesday of each month, parents, neighbors, and partners gather to answer the question “What does North Philly need?” and propose solutions to the question. I highly recommend the meetings, and my cell has made a habit of attending together. The next one is this coming Tuesday, April 5th, from 6:30-8:30. Visit treehousebooks.org for more details!
-Alene Brunkhurst, reporting
Alene Brunkhurst is a Circle of Hope Compassion Core team member, a NICU nurse, and an explorer of Philly by way of running.