Free Little Library opens at senior center

BELPRE – Members of the Belpre Senior Center, the Belpre Area Chamber of Commerce and city officials joined together Tuesday to open the community’s first Free Little Library at the senior center on Washington Boulevard.

The dedication was fronted by the Belpre Youth Chamber, an offshoot of the Belpre Area Chamber of Commerce, whose members have spent more than a year collecting funds through grants and other means to start the community project.

“For me, it is great to see these young people involved in the city,” Mayor Mike Lorentz told the crowd. “They are part of the junior chamber today, the regular chamber and city council in the future and it is wonderful to see.”

The Free Little Library is a “take a book, leave a book” program featuring a small grey box with a plexiglas-paneled door filled with donated books that has been placed on a pole in front of the senior center at 1614 Washington Blvd.

The idea for the Little Free Libraries, which allow borrowers to return, keep and trade any book, began in Wisconsin in 2009 when a man named Todd Bol wanted to honor his deceased mother and filled a model schoolhouse in his yard with a sign that read, “Free Books,” according to the organization’s website.

“The Little Free Library is not just for books,” said Kathy Gramkow, leader of the youth chamber and member of the BACC. “The concept was to have them in neighborhoods to be used as a meeting and gathering place and a way for people to meet others in their community, which is our goal for Belpre.”

This first little library was placed at the senior center because it was purchased by the AARP Foundation and donated to the Washington-Morgan Community Action, which in turn donated it to the Belpre Youth Chamber, said Gramkow, an employee with Community Action.

“The kids worked very hard and I am proud of everything they have accomplished and cannot wait to see what is to come,” Gramkow added.

The library box at the senior center is the first of three planned by the youth chamber. All three Little Free Libraries in Belpre are registered with the worldwide Little Free Library organization (

“The second will be placed in Howes Grove Park and the third will be in Civitan Park with the dedication ceremony to be during Healthy Youth and Family Night (Aug. 1) at Belpre Homecoming,” Gramkow said.

While the youth chamber members work with the adult chamber on projects, career development and leadership training, they also help with the annual Belpre Homecoming, the largest event organized by the BACC. The teenagers – all between seventh and 12th grades – have worked closely with the homecoming committee on the Healthy Youth and Families Night with entertainment, games and more.

The members of the youth chamber who participated in the dedication were Chris Myers, J.R. Pierce, Sky Bartlett, Chase Baker, Sarah Slater and Mason Matheny.

“This is exciting for me to see this first library open to the public,” she added. “When I was growing up in Belpre, the youth were looked at as troublemakers and the youth chamber gives the kids a place to shine and show they are valuable members of the community.”