Children and parents fanned out among the books filling the brick-lined attic offices of the Carroll County Family Support Center in the Westminster Distillery building on Thursday, the kids grabbing their chosen books and heading to a favorite chair or back to their play area.
Raymond Donnelly, who, at the cusp of being 2 years old, prefers a visceral means of selecting his books, scattered them from table to floor before sorting and making his choices.
"This is really cool," said his mother, Amber Donnelly, of Mount Airy. "I like that they are letting us pick out books, because at stores it's really difficult. He wants to pick up everything and throw it on the floor."
The Maryland Family Network was responsible for making the books available for free to parents. The group helps fund the Carroll County Family Support Center and 22 similar facilities statewide, according to spokesman Doug Lent.
"[The centers] serve young parents mostly, who are living at or below the poverty level and need a little help with job readiness skills, things like that," Lent said. "The books came about because our board of directors saw a need … Many of these families don't have books in the home."
Many families simply do not have the resources to keep a library at home for their young children, according to Joyce Tierney, director of the facility, having to choose between new books or food, rent and gas to drive to work.
Parents come to the Family Support Center, which is part of Human Services Programs of Carroll County Inc., to attend classes on parenting, finances and job skills while their children are engaged in an active child care environment, Tierney said. A large part of that program is about emphasizing the importance of books and language for early childhood development.
"They learn by coming here how important early literacy is for their children," she said. "Many parents come in here with a baby and they go, 'Why should I read to my baby? She's too little; she can't read,' but you'll see that everything we do here is very language-rich and early-literacy-based. That's why the book drive is really important."
For Greg Warner and his 22-month-old daughter, Sakari, from New Windsor, the classes at the center and focus on languages skills have made a huge difference.
"It has made such an impact on my daughter. She has gotten a lot more sociable; she's very friendly with the kids," he said. "She enjoys everything here, and I've learned some great things about how to be a great father with her."
When her turn came, Sakari chose a book about animals, "Corduroy at the Zoo," and a book about princesses.
"She does like books," Warner said. "Her attention span with books ain't the greatest, but that's normal at this age."
Raymond, after his personal sifting process, settled on a Thomas the Tank Engine book and several others on animals.
"At home we don't watch too much TV; we mostly just read, play, nap, read," Amber, his mother, said. "He is into trucks, car, trains, animals — anything that's really colorful."
Maryland Family Network board member Jacqueline Lampell was on hand to see the books distributed, and said that she believes this was just the first of more book drives to come.
"It's very important for us to be involved in public policy … but it's very important to stay connected to the reason that you do that, and that's the children," she said. "The board wants to connect directly to the children, and so there was no better way than providing books."