CENTRAL FALLS — When the city's state-appointed receiver decided not to fund the programs and operations of the Adams Memorial Library back in April, Carol Basile's heart broke.
Hers wasn't the only one.
“I felt terribly,” she said. “The children were disappointed and disgusted, and the parents were, too. The Children's Room is downstairs, and they came not just to be read to but read themselves. They had other things to do; they'd play with blocks or puzzles, and the older ones would go on the computers. Their moms would sit on the couch so they could keep an eye on their children.
“We also had teens who would come to fulfill their community service for the high school,” she added. “You know, they seemed scared to death at first, but — from Day One — I'd put my arm around their shoulders and say, 'You know what, honey? This is really easy, and I'm here to walk you through it. Don't worry about a thing,' and they'd respond with big smiles. That's what this library is all about.”
Basile, who also volunteers at what many consider the city's jewel, happened to be one of the early arrivals at the “Board of Trustees/Friends of Adams Memorial Library's Autumn Gala/Fundraiser” on Friday night.
The longtime Central Falls resident beamed at the goings-on as she stood near the front doorsteps.
“This is awesome!” she gushed. “It's the biggest thing we've ever done, the highlight of the year in our city. We desperately need funding to keep it open for everyone who uses it. I've been volunteering here ever since the board and the Friends of Adams Library re-opened it Aug. 1.
“Since then, we've had volunteers working to open the doors to the public 15 hours a week,” she continued. “I volunteer three days a week, and I log in people who want to receive new cards; I also check in and out books, DVDs and CDs. I don't have to volunteer, but I do because I'm currently retired, and I want to give back to the city of Central Falls.
“You should see the little kids' faces when they discover we have a movie they desperately want to see. They're so excited! I think those movies helps keep them off the streets, or out of harm's way.
“If I've seen the movie, I tell them, 'Oh, you're going to LOVE it!' If I haven't seen it, I just tell them, 'You must come back and tell me all about it! I want to know,' and they walk away grinning ear-to-ear.”
According to Friends of Adams Memorial Library Director Bruce Kaplan, it took him, Heidi Born and others eight weeks to organize this event, held from 6:30-9:30 p.m.
It included Pendragon member Bob Drouin and pals, who make up the Broad Street Ceilli Band based in Cumberland, providing live, traditional music; crooner Steve Lombardi showcasing his “Rat Pack” showmanship under the back-yard tent; and “Big Nazo” and “TEN31 Productions” actors bringing their own special magic to the event.
“It took a lot of time to organize this thing, but it was a lot of fun because we saw the community come together in a big way,” Kaplan noted. “Heidi is the event coordinator, and both she and I live in Pawtucket. Like most people, we've come in from neighboring cities because we feel no child in the state should be without a library.
“It sounds like a cliché, but it's the truth,” he continued. “Heidi's already donated about 60 hours a week for the last six weeks, and that's because she feels, we all do, this is so important. We hope to raise $40,000, and – beyond that – we hope to engage more people in the community to create awareness and make library access a statewide right, not just a community right.
“The thing is, we're all from Rhode Island, and we all pay state taxes, so we should all have rights to every library in the state. No library should say 'No!' to any child, any citizen, who wants to enter it; and no city should be allowed to cut off funding to its library.”
Kaplan indicated all funds would go to hiring a new library director, and – hopefully – to expand hours of operation to 50 per week.
“Ideally, we'd like this fundraiser to serve as a springboard to gain access to foundation grants, corporate donations and federal monies,” he offered. “With those, we'd not only have a director and expanded hours, but a hope to provide programming that meets the community's needs, those that range from computer literacy to career development to economic development.
“That way, we could provide resources on how to start a business; E-book lending; access to municipal records; and, in short, create the library of the future right here in Central Falls … In many ways, Central Falls – with its small size – could serve as a sandbox for democracy, with the library at its vital center.”
A “Who's Who” of local dignitaries attended the fete, which featured the partnership of “Bartending By Dennis” and “Tom's Market Catering of Newport.” Among them: Former Mayor Thomas Lazieh, State Sen. Betty Crowley, City Council member James Diossa and Blackstone Valley Tourism Council President Bob Billington.
“I'm always happy to support the Central Falls Memorial Library,” Lazieh said. “I've been coming here since I was a kid … It should be a vital function of the city to provide library services to its residents as it has for over 100 years.
“The last thing that should have been closed in this city was the library, and I applaud the Library Board of Trustees for keeping it open, and the residents, students and seniors who utilize its offerings.”
Crowley explained there was no way she would have missed it.
“It's so important to our residents, but more so for the students who need this library, and the seniors who come here to socialize,” she stated. “Not only that, but maybe this (fundraiser) will help it become a full-functioning library; then it would be eligible for reinstatement to the Ocean State Library Services Network.
“Without question, this is the gem of Central Falls,” she added. “It always has been, and that needs to continue. I think the people of this city, and those in the surrounding communities, will make this a very successful event.”
When told Kaplan hoped to raise $40,000, Crowley smiled, “You know, I think Bruce's expectations may be on the low side; I believe they'll end up with more. God bless the Friends and the Board of Trustees. We all owe them a lot of gratitude.”
Billington, another who lives in the “Square Mile City,” reveled in speaking with fellow residents.
“Anything I can do from my own personal perspective, and the perspective of the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council, I'll do,” he said. “This city is just too important not to support, and that includes the library. When something like this is threatened, everyone has to step up and get behind it; it's an honor just to be asked to help out.
“We've all heard all the negatives about Central Falls, but there also are plenty of positives,” he continued. “I stand here and look up at this famed dome, and I believe it to be perhaps the most beautiful library in the state. It's fabulously restored. If everyone had this opportunity, they would realize the resources this library provides, and it would be supported.”
Joe Pari, co-founder of Pawtucket-based TEN31 Productions and a Burrillville native, watched Ross Gavlin act as a human statue on top of the library's front desk. He chuckled when attendees seemed startled at Gavlin's subtle movements.
“He's representing Benjamin Franklin in his later years; this is just before he's to do his famous experiment with his kite and key,” Pari grinned. “When Heidi came to me and asked if we'd perform, my reaction was, 'Absolutely!' We love doing local events, as most of our work is in New York and Boston. Doing something so close, it's just a natural.
“I'm sure, originally, a lot of town folk came together to build this library, and it's rather grand. I think these great structures were built for future residents, and it's up to all of us to be good stewards and support it.
“Recently, I read a story about some bonsai trees being stolen from a Seekonk nursery, and the owner said the trees were over 100 years old. She said she didn't feel that she owned the trees, but humanity did. That's how I feel about this library.”
Amazingly, the fete came to be when Gayle Corrigan donated a prize she won to the library's “Friends;” it dictated she could host a cocktail party with hors d' oeuvres for 50 people.
She went to Born, and they began assembling the details. Some folks donated $100 or more, but that wasn't what thrilled Board of Trustees Chair Jerauld Adams the most.
“We spent several hours setting this up, and I went home to get changed; when I came back at 6:15, there were already at least 35 people here, 15 minutes early!” he said. “I was surprised. A lot of people I saw were walk-ins, and we weren't anticipating them.
“I'm ecstatic,” he added. “This little library in the smallest state in the union is pulling in people from all over the place. Some may not know why they're here, but I don't care. They're here to support a great cause, and also for the chance to bid on some great auction items.
“I couldn't have imagined this. Some told me that they had to go to another event, but they still said, 'I know this is important, that's why I'm here.' I even have a friend from Florida whose daughter got married in Providence several days ago, and she postponed her flight back so she could volunteer here. Now that's impressive.
“We were at 50 (registrants) just three days ago, and now we're up to 125. With the walk-ins, there's no way this won't succeed.”