At the Baldwin Hills branch library, children regularly come by after school to visit Yertle the Turtle, watch the children of Ballet Xochitlaztlan perform, meet an author or talk to an aerospace engineer.
Children's librarian Brenda Hicks mounted 61 such events last year--six times as many as most Los Angeles children's librarians--with young audiences totaling 1,533 for these special events.
How Hicks gets children off the streets and into the stacks with no budget is detailed in the "Los Angeles Youth Book," a new guide to help others start, strengthen or expand low-cost and no-cost after-school programs for children.
The book explains in detail how 31 local after-school programs for children stretch dollars. The 154-page "Los Angeles Youth Book" also examines some failed and troubled programs for lessons about what not to do.
Section on Resources
The book includes a 42-page guide to resources--such as corporate volunteer programs, nonprofit management advice centers and organizations offering printed materials and speakers--along with some basic advice on fund raising.
Copies of the book are free to any individual who has donated at least $10 to a youth charity and has a receipt or a photocopy of a canceled check to prove it, according to the book's creator, Barbara Seaver Gardner, USC's director of urban affairs.
Nonprofit organizations can get up to 100 copies by filling out a brief questionnaire about their desire to serve children, Gardner said.
"We did this book because the government is cutting back on money for children and the community has to do more things by itself," she said.
"This was written not just for youth program directors, but for churches, for givers who want to know where to make cost-effective contributions, for civic and fraternity groups and for religious organizations," Gardner said, adding that "there's never been a book like this before.
"We say a program is cost effective if it is not paying a lot of permanent staff who do everything, if it uses volunteers--both kids and grown-ups--and if it uses community resources that otherwise wouldn't be used, such as senior citizens and church facilities that are empty except for a few hours a week.
"We also looked at the quality of the program," she added, suggesting that the quality of programs is crucial. "The reason you have to show a receipt or fill out our very brief questionnaire is that when you print just 3,000 books, which took all the money we had, and just send them to anybody, they all just end up on bookshelves somewhere. It's a bit like flying over L.A. and opening a packet of poppy seeds; they will be so scattered you will never see the poppies grow."
$20,000 Printing Bill
The $20,000 printing bill was paid by USC's College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and grants from one anonymous donor, Prudential Insurance Co., Atlantic Richfield Co. and R. R. Donnelley & Sons Co., the magazine printers.
Gardner said 40 USC students studied dozens of after-school programs to find the most effective and the most cost-effective.
"We figured students would have open minds and could, by spending time, figure out which programs really worked and which ones only appeared to work," Gardner said.
The student researchers got credit for course work, but were not paid and did not even get reimbursed for gasoline and parking. Gardner estimated the value of this and other volunteer research time at more than $100,000.
Four Grown Children
Gardner, a Marina del Rey resident who has four grown children and three grandchildren, has long been active in promoting programs to benefit poor children.
A 1946 graduate of Stanford University, she was then the only woman to get a degree in civil engineering, earning the highest academic honors in her engineering class. Denied admission to Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration because at the time it was for men only, she went to Europe and became an economic adviser to the Marshall Plan. Gardner holds a a doctoral degree in economics and has taught both engineering and economics at UCLA.
Gardner said she is especially impressed with Hicks, the children's librarian in Baldwin Hills, because Hicks has no budget for guest speakers.
Hicks said that to get guest speakers she telephones or writes to potential guests whom she learns about from newspapers, radio and television, asking them to donate their time.
Only $85 Spent
The only money Hicks spent last year was $85, raised from Baldwin Hills merchants, to buy 14 bronze, silver and gold medals to honor 14 youngsters who read between 50 and 345 books last summer. The programs that drew the children, however, received no financial support, she said.
Hicks' drive, independence and the no-cost feature of her programs are typical of the 31 successful programs chronicled in the "Los Angeles Youth Book."