The group of Target employees who watched as Brehms Lane Elementary School students entered their new library Friday afternoon didn't have to read between the lines to gauge the children's excitement.
Dozens of students with dropped jaws and looks of awe filed into the space, looking around at the new computers, the hues of pastels that donned the walls and floors, and the pristine covers of the 2,000 new library books that came as part of the school's Target School Library Makeover.
"It's very fun, nicer, bigger and more creative," fifth-grader Jalen Rucker said all in one breath before taking a seat near Bullseye, the retailer's miniature bull terrier mascot, which was also in attendance for the unveiling.
The Northeast Baltimore school was one of 32 schools from 30 cities across the nation to be chosen to receive a Target School Library Makeover, with the help of the Heart of America Foundation. Brehms Lane leaders received word in March that the school, where 97 percent of the 731 students receive free and reduced-price meals, would receive the new academic hub.
"I couldn't in my wildest imagination picture what our library is now," said Wendy Hamlin, principal of Brehms Lane. She was appreciative of the "warm and inviting" feel of the room, which she said was more child-friendly with its bright colors, including the beanbag chairs.
Brehms Lane was the first school in Baltimore to be awarded a makeover from the big-box retailer since the program started. And as Baltimore-area Target Corp. employees snapped cell phone photos of the students like proud parents, they said it was worth the wait.
"I'm just so excited to see the children's faces," said Sadiq Ali, who manages Target's Mondawmin Mall location and is also community captain for the Baltimore district. "We know this has real potential to change their lives."
The project brought thousands of dollars' worth of new books, furniture and equipment into the school's reading and research area. More than 20 Maryland Target stores were represented by the 200 volunteers who took part in the makeover, which also included mural paintings, wall art and eco-friendly designs.
Each student also received seven new books to take home with them Friday. The average age of books in the school's old library — which was drab, cramped and cluttered — was close to 20 years old.
The library remodeling program launched in 2007, and since then Target and the Heart of America Foundation have donated more than 1 million books to 2,000 schools across the country.
"Their sense of themselves changes when they see this," said Bill Halamandaris, a founder of Heart of America, a nonprofit that fosters literacy and volunteerism. "You can see them processing it. One day they will say, 'Somebody did this for me — I can do something for someone else.' "
Glenard Stokes, whose fourth-grader Demaris Bell-El admired the "Wall of Heroes" that included pictures and quotes of everyone from Albert Einstein to Brehms Lane students, said he hopes other area retailers get involved in the community.
"I hope more businesses can get on the bandwagon," Stokes said. "We give them our money, and they give back."