Sometimes it takes the worst in community to showcase its very best.
Earlier this year, there was a local outcry when vandals torched the Little Library at Wellington Park in Port Coquitlam.
Amber Gregory is the Community Connector with United Way Avenues of Change Coquitlam River. She is a long-time Port Coquitlam resident and a passionate community volunteer.
“We were very disheartened when the library was burned down,” says Amber. “We had just celebrated our community and the different projects that bring us together.”
Community coming together
However her feeling of disappointment didn’t last long. Residents and neighbours came together to replace this much-loved book nook, mobilizing their local love by offering donations and help to support its rebuild.
PoCo Building Supplies and local businessman and realtor Trevor Street immediately offered donations to rebuild the library. Residents dropped off more donated books, while United Way Avenues of Change worked closely with staff at the City of Port Coquitlam to coordinate the library’s return.
“It was teamwork at its best right off the bat,” says Amber. “Everyone just came together. We were energized by our great love for our community.”
Launching the library
At a celebration in Wellington Park August 21, new books were placed inside the replacement library and put to use right away by local kids and families. The event showcased residents’ resiliency to reinstate the library and continue fostering literacy and connection in the community.
At every stage of the library’s rebuild, community was involved.
Amber credits social media as a catalyst for the quick community connection. For her, it was important that local residents kept watch over the other little libraries, in case of a second fire.
“I posted to different media groups to get the word out about the vandalism. This way, neighbours could keep an eye on the other little libraries we had just installed across Coquitlam River. I didn’t want them to suffer the same fate!”
The response was immediate and overwhelmingly positive.
“It was just an outpouring of love. People wanted to help with donations and wanted to give money and books. Everyone stood behind us in support of our vision for community.”
Acts of local love
For Amber, it is this passion and compassion that defines the space she calls home.
“We take care of each other,” she says. “When families feel safe and welcomed where they live, it makes all of the difference in the world.”
Since the launch of United Way’s Avenues of Change in 2015, residents have organized their own events and activities to tackle child vulnerability in Coquitlam River.
With the successful re-launch of the Wellington Park library, Amber is already looking forward to new ways of building space for her community and of showing her local love.
“This part of Port Coquitlam is full of new residents who want to be part of something. Each day when I am out in the community I see these incredible changemakers – people who are bringing each other together to feel welcomed. We’re stepping out of our comfort zones. It’s a new age and we’re creating new, long-lasting connections.”
Amber’s daughter Kyra is excited to see this energy in her neighbourhood, especially from individuals of all ages. She is happy to know she did her own small part to bring people together.
“I love meeting new people, learning their stories and seeing how they share the same love for where they live.”
You’re invited to check-out Coquitlam’s Little Libraries, one of many community-led projects to emerge in the area inspired by United Way’s Avenues of Change initiative! Find them in at Wellington Park, Aggie Park, Irvine Elementary, Elks Park and Norm Staff Park.
Through a partnership with PoCo Heritage, part of the original, damaged Wellington Park library had been decorated with historical images. Students from Irvine Elementary (SD#43) re-coloured black and white photos of Port Coquitlam and their school, connecting students to the library while honouring the history of their community. Please contact Amber Gregory if you wish to donate to help redecorate the new library pole.