Around 3 p.m., the girls trickle through the front door of a former upholstery shop. From public and private schools in Germantown, Mount Airy and beyond, they arrive in pleated skirts and blue jeans. Yvonne Haughton welcomes each by name as they shed jackets and knapsacks before helping themselves to pudding and hot chocolate.
Giggles, repressed all day in a classroom, now escape between sunshine yellow walls. Homework starts on loose leaf and laptops. The girls settle into seats plucked from Craigslist and FreeCycle. Shelves, lined two-deep with gently used hardcovers and paperbacks, are labeled by categories, bookstore-style.
This is the For My Daughter Library—a study lounge, afterschool program and safe haven for girls ages eight to 14. Set in a Germantown Ave. storefront and designed using environmental principles, the space opened in October. Here, there are no librarians to hush students. In fact, it’s meant to be a place where a girl can find her voice.
Yvonne, 49, who has taught third through fifth grades, says she made the library girl-only to reduce some of the pressure and competition that comes with co-ed education. At her library, you don’t have to raise your hand before speaking, she explains, because this is not school.
Yvonne’s vision came in the summer, when a car accident left her recovering at home on doctor’s orders and she consumed more TV and Internet than usual. She saw hard-hitting statistics about misogynistic violence, new cases of HIV/AIDS in young African-American women and poor literacy of city high school graduates. Meanwhile, in what she calls a “door/window thing,” she was fired for missing work from her job as a human resource manager.
“So here I am with all these problems that I’m looking at and a house full of books that I’ll never put my hands on—I like to read children’s books because they’re soothing—and my daughter said, ‘You need to do something!’” Yvonne recalls.
Once the library idea was set, Yvonne’s daughter, Danielle, 23, who catalogs the books, had another suggestion.
“She said, ‘You should make the library green-friendly.’ I said, ‘Yeah? What does that mean?’ and she said, ‘Here!’ and she gave me a couple of books,” said Yvonne, laughing.
With her retirement travel fund, Yvonne purchased used books and furniture at thrift stores, yard sales, adding to her “little hodgepodge of comfort.” Local workers made renovations and painted the walls with low-VOC (volatile organic compound) paint.
“I didn’t want to buy new things because I wanted to prevent us from contributing further to [the creation of] new products,” Yvonne says. “That would mean the destruction of old products that were perfectly OK.”
Yvonne has invited professionals who have voluntarily conducted workshops in crocheting, bully prevention, mask-making and other skills. Through its affiliation with The Coalition, Inc., an organization of community groups, she’s made contacts and spread the word about the library.
“I reach out to anyone who wants to make [the girls] feel important, special, appreciated, understood, relevant, and just themselves,” she says. “I don’t think one person or one place can give them everything that they need.”
The library can accommodate 15 girls, and six to 13 students spend time there on a given afternoon. Yvonne calls each girl “Princess” and says she wants to keep the program small so each child feels that she belongs.
“Young people are resources. We can let them go to waste or let them become something useful and productive—just like our goods, just like our services,” she says. “I just want to do a little bit of that.”