The women of the Friends of the Westwood Library first met Hannah Paterson at the spring book sale last June. Sue Kukel, a book sale committee member, noticed this seventeen-year-old girl, curled-up on the floor, intently sifting through children’s picture books and early-readers. Surprised by this sight, Sue offered her assistance and Hannah’s story unfolded. For several years now, on Tuesday afternoons, Hannah has been traveling to Mattapan to tutor inner-city children at the Church of the Holy Spirit. A great many of the youngsters who gather at the church are immigrants from Haiti who arrived in Boston after the recent earthquake. For these children, English is their second language, and they have had to struggle to adjust to a new culture and community.
Hannah shared that she became involved in this program through the youth group at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Westwood, which is a sister church to the Mattapan parish. Inspired by her older sister, Hannah joined the tutoring group as a Westwood freshman, and looks forward to her weekly treks into the city. In fact, she is hugely disappointed when her busy school, athletics, and extra-curricular activities interfere with her schedule. After missing a single afternoon with the boys and girls, Hannah says she is bombarded with exclamations of “where were you” and “we missed you” before she can walk in through the doors of the church. For many of these children, the attention of a teenager is a thrilling experience, and Hannah’s dedication and enthusiasm is clearly contagious.
Hannah and other teens help younger students with homework, reading, writing, and math. The goal of the tutors is to instill confidence in these students. One of the children’s favorite moments is when Hannah reads aloud to them. Emily Stimson Sugg, the Minister of Children & Youths at St. John’s, shared that this is an extraordinary gift to the children, many of whom are rarely read aloud to outside of their school classrooms. Mrs. Sugg also shared that Hannah, who hopes to study bio-medical engineering in college next year, has a special talent for assisting the children with their math skills. With a laugh in her voice, Mrs. Sugg said that whenever a child who is struggling with their mathematics comes to her for help, she shuttles them over to Hannah.
Straightaway, Hannah noticed that the center was greatly lacking in books. She first began to fulfill this need by bringing in her own childhood books from home. She then used her own money to purchase books from second hand bookstores and neighborhood sales. The congregation at St. John’s learned of her plight, and also contributed to the need for reading materials. Having successfully added to the collection shelved at the Church of the Holy Spirit, Hannah realized that the majority of the children did not have books in their own homes. She decided to start a memorial lending library in the name of a fellow tutor, who had recently passed-away. Mrs. Sugg shared that this was a wonderful way for the community to heal from the grief of losing this beloved volunteer and friend. Hannah’s mission now, is to collect enough books so that the children can keep a few for themselves. Growing up in a community like Westwood, Hannah pointed out that most kids take owning their own books for granted, and it is unfortunate that these children don’t have books to call their very own. Hannah shared that when she tells a child they can keep a book, their eyes first grow wide in disbelief and then their face bursts into a great big smile. Hannah reflected that Mattapan is a mere seven miles from Westwood, and many people are surprised to learn that there are children in need so close to their own community.
When Hannah recently visited the Westwood Library’s fall book sale, her focus was on books that contain stories about people of color. Hannah pointed out that the children are in awe of the fact that individuals like themselves can appear in books. She hopes that stories such as these will inspire the children. Hannah is already inspiring adults. When Tricia Perry, Director of the Westwood Library, learned that she was searching for such books, she zipped over to her office to provide Hannah with a treasure from her own personal collection. Ms. Perry gave Hannah a new copy of “The Magical Day” by local author Sandra Elaine Scott and illustrated by Jasmine Mills. “‘The Magical Day’ is a story about a child exploring a new environment and meeting inspiring everyday citizens along the way.” Hannah looks forward to sharing this book, and the many others donated by the Friends of the Westwood Library, with her young friends on Tuesday afternoons.