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Library program inspiring youngsters

Several hand-painted panels Midlothian Library courtyard depict classic children's books.  About 19 local students between ages 12 18 worked

Several of the hand-painted panels in the Midlothian Library courtyard depict classic children's books. About 19 local students between the ages of 12 and 18 worked on the mural for about six weeks before the July unveiling. | Ginger Brashinger/For Sun-Times Media

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A program embraced nearly a year ago by the Midlothian Public Library, intended to inform, involve and inspire young people, culminated in a permanent addition to the recently-renovated library.

Engage! Teens, Art and Civic Participation, a pilot project based on the National Endowment for the Humanities’ “Picturing America” program which began in September, 2013, and ended in February, paved the way for the recently unveiled courtyard mural conceived and created by the program’s participants.

“We’ve been waiting for this for several years,” Midlothian Library director Mary Beth Sharples said.

After the library’s 2012 renovation, the courtyard space originally was intended to be used as a story time area for young children, Sharples said, but the traffic noises on 147th St. ruled that out.

She said the space was neglected for a while until the staff came up with the idea of putting a mural on the courtyard wall. About the same time, librarian Jennifer Cottrill learned about the Engage program and saw a way for the programs to complement one another.

“Once I saw that (Engage) webinar, I was just hooked,” Cottrill said. “If we did this curriculum, we would get a really, really rich experience, a really, really rich product—much richer than if we had just jumped in without doing that work first.”

Midlothian native Jennifer Morrissey, 28, artistic director for the Engage program and the courtyard mural, oversaw the participation of about 20 young people between ages 12 and 18 who worked on the mural in groups twice a week for about five hours at a time.

“It’s just been really exciting,” Morrissey said. “It was awesome working with the kids and hearing all the ideas they came up with.”

The mural depicts well-known children’s literature, including “Alice in Wonderland,” “Peter Pan,” “Cat in the Hat” and “The Wizard of Oz,” in addition to a statement describing the young participants’ theme for the project.

Midlothian resident Sabah Sanchez said her son Michael, 14, and daughter Michelle, 12, got more than instruction and information out of the program.

“It made them more outgoing and willing to work with others more than they already did,” she said. Sanchez said they also made new friends of different ethnicities during the program.

Michael Sanchez said he thought it would benefit all of the participants “in the long run” because they were “working as a community.”

Michelle Borgman, 18, a senior at Bremen High School, said she learned about the program through her volunteer work at the library in the teen advocacy VOICE program.

“It was really nice to work with the younger kids,” Borgman said.

Michelle Sanchez and Alyssa Isenhart, 12, each said the program was a way to indulge their passion for art.

Michelle, who wants to be a fashion designer or graphic artist, said, “I had opportunities to meet more people who have the same interest as me in art.”

Cottrill said the students should get credit for their “creativity, earnestness and enthusiasm.”

“A lot of hard work went into this,” Cottrill said. “These are great kids.”



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