Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Empathy and enjoyment at our local library

The big smile on my son’s face as he bounded out of the library said it all: The Minecraft Teen Lock-in was a success. Like many other kids, Joseph loves playing Minecraft, so it’s no surprise that he would enjoy a two-hour event focused on the game. After all, he had been attending the Minecraft club and Minecraft directors club at our local library at least a couple of times a month throughout the year. But when he first heard about this event, he considered not attending.

Joseph assumed the event would include food. There have been times at other locations when food has made Joseph feel unsafe or excluded at an event because of his multiple food allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, milk, egg, soy, sesame, mustard, watermelon, strawberry and cantaloupe. That anxious feeling when other kids are eating unsafe food around him undermines the fun. This time, he didn’t have to worry.

In addition to planning amazing programs for teens throughout the year, Nicole, the youth services programming coordinator at the Pawling Free Library, has been wonderful about ensuring that any event Joseph attends is safe for him in light of his food allergies. Food is not part of most of the programs Joseph attends anyway because they mostly revolve around computers. But when food has come into play, Nicole has taken Joseph's needs into account, for example making sure to only bring the brand of chips that Joseph could have when she was having snacks at the end of one session.

The Minecraft event was no different. Nicole assured Joseph that there would only be snacks that are safe for him. She even offered to get all safe ingredients and make cupcakes that would be fine for Joseph. My comfort level is to make the cupcakes for the event myself, but I thanked her for being so willing to go the extra mile to accommodate Joseph. When I explained to her that her empathy for my 12-year-old and her efforts to ensure that he could safely enjoy an event is so appreciated because that is not what we often experienced, she was incredulous. She wondered, how could people think that the type of food at an event is more important than a kid’s enjoyment and well being?

I am so happy to have found such support for Joseph at one of my favorite places. The library has always been an integral part of my life and it continues to be for my family. The library was one of the first places we visited as we got acquainted with our new town after moving here a year ago. The books lining the library shelves were a comfort to us, wrapping us in a familiarity when everything was so different. Both of my children are voracious readers, so they would have loved the library just because it held so many experiences and worlds for them to explore safely between the covers of both well-worn and brand-new books. But the friendly faces that greet us each day when we enter, the help we know we can count on to find just the book, and the amazing programs that both of my children continue to enjoy make the Pawling Free Library extra special. In addition to Minecraft club, Joseph has taken classes in computer programming and 3D printing, worked on the library teen newsroom, and created a blog, "Pancake Domination". Pamela, 7, has enjoyed book clubs, craft activities and learning to sew, in addition to finding her wonderful Girl Scouts troop through one of the programs.

I felt so blessed as I decorated the Minecraft cupcakes for the teen lock-in. I have probably made thousands of allergy-friendly cupcakes during the past 12 years and it is especially gratifying to make them for an event that involves someone like Nicole, who has been so supportive. Joseph said that he had a blast at the Minecraft event, noting that he could enjoy his favorite part — playing Minecraft — because he didn’t have to worry about the food.

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