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Mighty Writers bought 100 books for kids held at a local detention center. Now, they’re not welcome

Mighty Writers' bookmark-making event at El Futuro on Thursday, June 28. July 3, 2018 Category: FeaturedMediumPurpose
Around the time the City of Philadelphia released its Action Guide on Federal Family Separation PolicyMighty Writers was forming its own plan to support families being held at immigration detention centers in Pennsylvania.

That plan has since been thwarted.

The multi-site (and expanding) nonprofit that teaches writing skills to Philly students has one location that primarily serves the Mexican-American community: El Futuro near the Italian Market.

Executive Director Tim Whitaker said that its program director, Madeline Karp, suggested the organization ship books to immigrant children being detained at Berks County Residential Center so they could start their own libraries once settled wherever their eventual homes would be, and to bring comfort while in the center.

“We’ve been told that the centers in general lack reading material, especially books written in Spanish, which is what we’re delivering,” Whitaker wrote in an email to Generocity on Monday.

Within a matter of days, Mighty Writers had applied for and received a $3,000 grant from Team First Book Philadelphia, the local chapter of a national nonprofit that provides free books to education programs benefitting low-income children, to order 700 Spanish-language books.

Team First Book Philadelphia co-chair Marni Fogelson confirmed via email that the organization made a grant to Mighty Writers for this purpose.

“When Mighty Writers told us about the potential opportunity, we felt it was a concrete and impactful way to fulfill our mission of providing free, new, diverse books to children in need,” she said. “We believe strongly in the power of books as transformative, nurturing, and enriching tools that should be available to children regardless of their current circumstance.”

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Mighty Writers also hosted a bookmark-making day at El Futuro on Thursday so its students could gift something personal for the children receiving the new books.

Whitaker said Berks’ executive director, Diane Edwards, gave the OK for him and Karp to deliver 100 books at 10 a.m. this morning. The other 600 would be sent to other detention centers, including one near Pittsburgh and one in the Lehigh Valley, as the organization makes contact with them and gains approval to do so.

“Communication with the detention centers is challenging at best,” he said. “We have been dogged at establishing communication at Berks, but even then we’ve found all can almost fall apart at the last minute. We’re hoping to establish some semblance of trust with each contact.”

Then, according to Whitaker, Edwards “abruptly cancelled” on Monday afternoon. Per Philly.com: “Whitaker said no one from the county offered an explanation for the sudden turnaround, other than that they had a full library. Give to someone without a library, they were told.”

The organization is quickly regrouping.

In a follow-up email to Generocity, Whitaker said about next steps: “We’re going to keep the pressure on Berks and look to other detention centers at the same time.”

But the plan is still to deliver the books. Mighty Writers is soliciting donations to support the delivery of the books, staff time and “establishing an infrastructure that will allow us to go wider with this,” Whitaker said.

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