MANY PEOPLE CAN cite a favorite teacher
who has continued to inspire them throughout their lives. Fewer people recall a favorite
librarian who has done the same, but for
countless homeless children in the Bronx,
in New York City, Colbert Nembhard may
just fit that bill.
For the past eight years, the Jamaican-born Costco member has been instilling
a love of books in children at the Crotona
Inn homeless shelter in the Morrisania
neighborhood of the Bronx.
“One morning I got a phone call from
one of my peers, and she said there was a
shelter in my neighborhood and she would
like me to go there and do story time and
to work with the kids and with the staff,”
Nembhard recalls. “I rather welcomed the
idea. And I’m there ever since.”
Once or twice a week, he rolls his trusty
suitcase, filled with books, from the library
to the center, taking center stage in a com-
munity rec room, classroom or small
office—wherever there is room to roost.
“I tend to bring a variety of books for
them to choose from, because sometimes
the kids, their attention span is so small
so I don’t want to bore them,” he explains.
The children range in age from ; months
to ; years old.
It’s not just the books that keep them
entertained. Nembhard brings hand puppets
and sings songs, too. His visits help draw
children and families to the library to sign up
for library cards and use computers and other
mobile devices in the library’s inventory.
“When I first started, it wasn’t easy
to catch on to,” he tells The Connection.
“Because not many people were doing shel-
ter programs. But after a while, it evolved.
[Now] others are starting to go into the
shelter and do shelter work. Also, I get to see
a different population of kids from when I
first started. So over the years, I’ve seen it
rise from that small amount of kids into a
Nembhard’s small program at a single
shelter in the Bronx has led to a citywide
initiative at many shelters throughout the
city to do similar programs, which has been
recognized by the Library of Congress. He
also does literacy workshops for the parents,
inspiring them to read to their children.
Explaining why he does this, Nembhard
says, “I have compassion, because they’re less
fortunate. That’s why I go in there: to bring
literacy and to bring the library to them,
because most of them don’t have access to
these type of things.”—Steve Fisher
Have books, will travel
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IT BEGAN in 2013, when former elementary teacher Justina Bryant spotted two
boys taunting a fourth-grader at her kids’
school in Aptos, California. She intervened, told the bullies to back off and
comforted the distraught child. The principal scolded the bullies too, but for
Bryant, that wasn’t enough.
A few months later, the Costco
member volunteered to start an after-school Kindness Club at the school. For
one hour a week, 30 young club members wrote nice notes to office staff,
drew pictures for the janitor and
crafted kindness bookmarks for their
classmates to discover in the library.
Antsy to do more, in March 2014,
Bryant (pictured below) launched the 21
Day Kindness Challenge (21daykindness
challenge.org) and asked the 600 members of the school community—teachers,
principals, staff members and students—
to each perform five acts of kindness
daily for 21 days. The kids loved it, and
the teachers saw an improvement in
attitudes, including their own.
Teachers at other schools heard
about the program and contacted
Bryant about starting their own 21 Day
Kindness Challenge. So she developed
a packet with a guidebook, wristbands,
classroom projects and instructions for
families who wanted to get involved.
To date, 19 elementary, middle and
high schools in the U.S. and Japan have
signed up, recording nearly 250,000
acts of kindness that focus attention
away from bullying behaviors and
reward positive ones. Students lead the
programs, and corporate sponsors help
offset the cost of materials.
Says Bryant, who hopes to inspire
250 schools to sign up for the Kindness
Challenge this year, “It’s really reignited
my passion for helping the next generation become something spectacular.”
Colbert Nembhard reads to
children at the Crotona Inn
OUR DIGITAL EDITIONS
Click here to watch Colbert Nembhard
sing “Five Green and Speckled Frogs.”
(See page 9 for details.)