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Sitting in a hospital bed can be really boring for kids (and adults) but reading can transport them to a whole new world.

To help that along, Pi Beta Phi Fraternity for Women donated 3,500 books to Children’s Hospital of Michigan as part of its Detroit Fraternity Day of Service. This month the group will donate 20,000 new books to Detroit area schools, after-school programs and community programs serving students from low-income families. For any kids it will be the first new book they’ve ever owned.

The fraternity hosted a special event at the hospital to kick off the Day of Service and launch the brand new Detroit Little Library at Children’s Hospital. The Detroit Little Libraries campaign has been working to promote reading and community in the city by installing doll house-size libraries in public places. They look a little like a big bird house filled with books. The idea is to take a book or leave a book.

So far Detroit Little Libraries has put almost 313 little libraries in front of individual homes, small businesses, nonprofits, community gardens, worship houses, health centers, all 97 Detroit public schools and now at Children’s Hospital of Michigan.

“Everyone knows reading is so important,” says Kim Kozlowski, founder of Detroit Little Libraries. “But it is especially critical for children because reading can change the trajectory of someone’s life. That is why we are so thrilled there is now a Little Free Library at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan. It’s wonderful that Pi Beta Phi has stepped up to steward the library and keep it stocked with books.”

Along with special appearances by Detroit Pistons Aron Baynes and Pistons mascot Hooper and the Detroit Police Department SWAT (special weapons and tactics) team there was a very poignant moment when the very special “little library” was unveiled in the Children’s Emergency Department in memory of a patient.

At eight weeks old Jenny Lyn Preston was diagnosed with mitralstenosis, causing 95 percent blockage of the heart. She was given 90 days to live. That was in 1978.

She had a lifesaving procedure at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan. When she grew up she became a librarian at the Novi Public Library.

Preston died at 36 in March 2015 and her best friend, Melissa Burden, wanted to honor her memory. She chose to sponsor a Little Library at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan and the emergency room seemed the perfect place to install it.

Left to right: Norma Preston ( Jenny’s mother); Melissa Burden; Children’s CEO Luanne Thomas Ewald; Pat Preston (Jenny’s father); Little Libraries Founder Kim Kozlowski

Detroit Little Libraries works with many Detroit artists, who put their work on a few “blank” libraries to raise awareness of the campaign. Melissa hired Plymouth artist Eno Laget to customize a Little Library to honor Preston. She wanted his art to complement the hospital emergency room’s safari theme. Laget and his wife and daughter, Grace and Zoe Stanczak, worked on it together as a family.

Plymouth artist Eno Laget to customized a Little Library to honor Jenny Preston.

The books will make time in the emergency room a little easier so combining the unveiling with the Phi Beta Phi event was the perfect time to introduce the new little library.

“When we saw the opportunity to donate 20,000 books through Pi Beta Phi Fraternity Day of Service Signature Events, we immediately thought of Detroit,” says Jennifer Bartleman and Michelle Woodhouse, Detroit’s Fraternity Day of Service co-chairs. “We felt compelled to evoke positive change on Detroit’s staggering low literacy rates and high poverty rates.”

Over the past several years, Pi Beta Phi has donated well over $1 million to literacy causes and given more than one million books to children in need. The Fraternity is currently working toward a goal of impacting one million lives through its philanthropy Read > Lead > Achieve® by the time Pi Beta Phi celebrates its 150th anniversary this summer.

“Our Fraternity of almost 300,000 women is united in the cause to promote the importance of reading,” says Pi Beta Phi President Paula Shepherd. “According to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy, one in four children grows up functionally illiterate, and we believe that is one too many. Pi Beta Phi is thrilled to participate in this book distribution because we believe reading transforms individuals, creates leaders and is the foundation of all that we can achieve in life.”

For additional information, visit www.pibetaphi.org or follow Pi Phi on Twitter and Facebook.

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