Neighbors Restore Neighborkids’ Opportunity to Borrow School Library Books

For Immediate Release
Media Contact:  Allison Pinto, (941)315-8343,  

Neighbors Restore Neighborkids’ Opportunity to Borrow School Library Books

(Sarasota, Florida) – Neighbors of Central-Cocoanut along with several members of the local region have contributed $246.36 to pay off neighborkids’ library fines so that all children who live in Central-Cocoanut and attend Gocio Elementary are once again able to check out books from the school library. 

The contributions are part of a broader resident-led effort to figure out how Central-Cocoanut can become the Sarasota neighborhood that is best at reading, and the first neighborhood in the United States where all children are experiencing overall thriving in terms of being happy and emotionally grounded, loved and loving, learning, and contributing. 

As individuals contributed through Sarasota Community Studio to pay off neighborkids’ library fines, people were asked why they contributed and why they believed this effort was important.  Responses included the following:

Craig Jones, neighborkid, age 11:  “It’s important so that kids can start back reading.” 

Queen Martin, neighborhood grandmother:  “I think there’s a lot of kids who are into reading – kids just love to read – it’s to keep them motivated.  They need that, you know?  If you stop them from reading, how are they supposed to get through?  How are they going to take the test if they don’t know how to read?  They’ve got to learn to read first, and you’re going to stop them from getting the books?”

Candice Frankel, neighborhood mother:  “I think there should be a better, more constructive way for kids to pay off library fines, like volunteering, especially if parents don’t have the money to pay off the fines.” 

Jennifer Black, Fort Myers resident and infant / early childhood mental health specialist:  “I feel strongly that associated shame, hurt and anger with a library is just wrong.  Shame as a teaching tool is just wrong.  Penalizing a child because their parent isn’t able or willing to offer the money is also hard to stomach.  Books are filled with so much joy and learning and the possibility of creating wonderment – all children should have access, even if it means losing some books.”

Adam Tebrugge, Sarasota resident and local attorney:  “I did not want to see library fines affect a child’s ability to read books.  Reading is the key skill to all future success.” 

The effort to pay off the library fines took 5 ½ months.  Neighbors first learned about the book borrowing dilemma through the Neighborkid Talent Squad.  This group was established in August 2013 through Sarasota Community Studio as a partnership with Central-Cocoanut neighborkids and their families.  The purpose of the Squad is to clarify children’s everyday experience over the course of the school year and to strengthen collaboration among home, neighborhood and school.  The hope is to discern what it will take for kids to be optimally supported across settings and to take just-in-time action in order for them to learn and thrive to their fullest potential.

In November 2013 conversations with the Gocio teacher of one child participating in the Talent Squad alerted families and fellow neighbors to the situation.  She noted that restoring the child’s ability to check out materials from the school library might be one way to increase the child’s enthusiasm. 

Sarasota Community Studio followed up by contacting the Gocio Elementary librarian to clarify the book borrowing policy and to find out how much money was owed, and how many Central-Cocoanut neighborkids needed to have their ability to borrow books restored.  Initially the school indicated that this information could not be provided, so Sarasota Community Studio then assisted the principal in connecting with the Information Technology Department of the Sarasota County School Board to obtain a list of those students residing in Central-Cocoanut.  The School Board provided this information in December so that the school librarian could identify which Gocio students were Central-Cocoanut neighborkids and tally the library fines for the neighborhood. 

Three months later in March 2014, Gocio Elementary provided the information to Sarasota Community Studio.  Gocio reported that 18 of the 74 Central-Cocoanut neighborkids attending Gocio were unable to check out materials from the school library due to a total of $246.36 in fines.  This meant that one quarter of all neighborkids attending Gocio were unable to borrow books. 

Sarasota Community Studio shared this information with Central-Cocoanut neighbors by email and the broader community through Facebook.  Within one week, children, adult neighbors, and several members of the surrounding region had contributed the full amount needed to pay off the fines.  They also generated ideas about alternative approaches to address the challenges of book lending and borrowing.

Sarasota Community Studio contacted Gocio to inform the school that the total amount of money owed had been raised.  The school librarian expressed appreciation and then a letter was sent out by Gocio to all parents asking them to pay the fines for their children’s overdue and missing books.  There was no mention that the full amount had already been raised by neighbors.  The letter also stated that until these fines were paid, the suspension of children’s borrowing ability would carry over to the following school year and to other schools if the children transferred. 

Sarasota Community Studio followed up with Gocio to ask for an updated tally of the total amount due to restore the borrowing ability of all Central-Cocoanut neighborkids.  One month later Gocio replied with an updated amount of $179.34 and on that day, May 7, Sarasota Community Studio delivered the funds to Gocio, with the remaining contributions reserved for any future fines accrued by neighborkids.  The principal replied the following day to confirm that the borrowing ability of all Central-Cocoanut children attending Gocio was now restored, and that children therefore would be able to borrow books for the one week that remained before the library closed for the end of the school year.  She also confirmed that Gocio faculty would be happy to accept an invitation from neighborkids, parents, fellow neighbors, and concerned members of the broader community to address the dilemma of library lending and borrowing in the future. 

When kids playing after school at Mary Dean Park in Central-Cocoanut learned that the ability to borrow library books was restored for all neighborkids attending Gocio they fist pumped with excitement, and neighbors are now looking forward to seeing what the kids bring home from school and share on the block as the reading efforts continue.  

Fierce Words for the Love of Community

By Allison Pinto

How inspiring it is to hear Supreme Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s “epic dissent” against the banning of affirmative action, issued last week and now circulating through social media.  It is a reminder of how important expressions of dissent are in community change efforts.  It is also a reminder of the hard work that goes into choosing one’s words wisely, and the courage it takes to speak them. 

What follows is a brief essay I wrote and never published back in January 2012.  At that time I was working in a local organization where the majority of the staff felt there was too much “sting” in the message, so it was recommended that I hold off on sharing it more broadly. 

I am posting the essay now – in part because the painful realities I describe still exist today, and in part because I am beginning to see more evidence that the assets and thriving of our Central-Cocoanut neighborhood and Newtown community are being acknowledged and appreciated – both within the neighborhood and community, and beyond.   

I also am sharing this essay because I want to be clear about why I have fiercely insisted on focusing on the positive– in kids and in the Central-Cocoanut neighborhood.  This is not a superficially cheerful, polyanna approach to life.  Instead it is a way of refusing to go along with the dominant, problem-saturated perspective that exists in Sarasota about the kids and neighborhoods of Newtown.  By recognizing and affirming strengths, it is intended as an active, constructive, and ongoing dissent against the prevailing power dynamics in Sarasota.  It is an effort to bring the brilliance of our community into clear focus so that we can work together, in genuine collaboration, to realize the thriving of us all.         


Why I Won’t Talk about Economic (In)equality as a Neighbor…Yet

By Allison Pinto, Ph.D.
Written but not published on January 18, 2012

If you follow the posts on my home and work blogs, you know that I often share my perspective as a neighbor as one means of exploring issues relating to community well-being.  Recently, as Tim Dutton has encouraged our community to start exploring the phenomenon of economic (in)equality,  several co-workers have encouraged me to share my perspective on this topic as a neighbor too, and I’ve been grappling with how I might do so. 

I’ve decided that I won’t – not yet. 

It’s not that I don’t experience the realities of economic inequality on a daily basis – I do. 

In my neighborhood, I see kids whose families don’t have cars getting up before the crack of dawn to ride the SCAT bus to school, so that they can maintain their school stability after their family moves a mere 3 blocks away and they find themselves in a new school attendance zone (a common occurrence in Newtown) – only to discover that the bus will take them to the transfer station downtown, but the transfer bus does not begin running until after the school day begins.  I’ve also answered early morning knocks at the door from one kid or another who’s missed the school bus and needs to find another way to travel the 7 miles that stretch from our neighborhood to his or her school.   So when do I offer to give a kid a ride?  When do I offer $1.25 for the bus?   When do I trouble-shoot alarm clock snafus?  When do I say, “Sorry, can’t today?”   

In my neighborhood, I hear kids complain that they can’t bear to eat Ramen noodles one more night, or can’t eat apples because their front teeth are silver-capped.  I’ve received text messages from fellow neighbors who are moms asking for food or money for dinner for their kids.  I’ve never gone a night without enough money to get some dinner for myself.  So when do I invite folks over for dinner?  When do I swing by Publix on my way home from work and drop off a bag of groceries?  When do I pass along the 211 number?  When do I say, “Sorry, can’t today?” 

In my neighborhood, I brace myself when  kids I’ve grown to love tell me about the ways they’ve been treated disrespectfully by adults in school settings, and when I witness kids being treated disrespectfully in shops we visit together in the broader Sarasota community.  Is it just because they are kids?  Or is it because they are kids who are economically challenged?  Or is it because they are kids who are Black?  I can’t tell – but I do know from the way my stomach clenches and my heart pounds that I am bearing witness to disrespect expressed toward kids I care about, and I’m not always sure how to respond to it in the moment. 

But here’s why I’m not really going to share my perspective on economic inequality as a neighbor:  Because I don’t believe that the broader community is yet sufficiently appreciative or acknowledging of the riches of my home neighborhood and Newtown community.  And there are so many riches – people with so much love and strength and wisdom and creativity, places with so much beauty and history and opportunity, and resources with so much legitimate relevance when it comes to those things most needed, requested and appreciated on the block.   So many capacities I aspire to develop within myself, and recognize as under-developed in my own life despite the educational, economic and professional opportunities I’ve been granted so far. 

To enter into a conversation about economic inequality as a neighbor at this point risks foregrounding a continuum that places my neighborhood on the short end of the stick.  This risk exists even in a conversation that intends to focus on the relationship between people / neighborhoods with high vs. low income.  A focus on income (in)equality highlights one aspect of well-being where many folks in my neighborhood come up short, without simultaneously acknowledging other ways in which my neighborhood seems to experience greater riches relative to the broader community (neighborliness, resourcefulness, family rootedness and green space, to name a few.) 

So until there is greater appreciation for the fact that there is more than one measuring stick of well-being, and that on many other measuring sticks neighborhoods such as my own are the “long end of the stick,” I am not going to elaborate any further on the nuances of economic suffering I witness daily.

Instead, I’ll keep pointing out the thriving that is manifesting in my neighborhood, even in the face of economic inequality, until that day when a rich diversity of others – people beyond my home neighborhood -- are talking with respect (and perhaps even a touch of wishfulness or envy) about all the good stuff in my neighborhood.  From where I sit right now, that’s when I’ll know it’s time for me to chime in as a neighbor on the topic of economic inequality. 

I so hope that time comes soon.   


With neighborkids leading another Stand Against Racism this weekend, as part of the annual national event, local expressions of dissent seem especially timely.  In Central-Cocoanut we will continue voicing and listening for fierce words for change, both on the block and through Sarasota Community Studio.   We genuinely hope to hear and respond, together with fellow neighbors and community members, for the sake of a transformed community.  

Great Quotes by Nicki Minaj


Nicki Minaj is a favorite among kids and grown folks on the block in Central-Cocoanut.  Here are some great quotes by Nicki – no wonder she has so many fans!   

“The point is, everyone is not black and white. There are so many shades in the middle, and you’ve got to let people feel comfortable with saying what they want to say when they want to say it.” – Nicki Minaj, quoted in Out Magazine. 

“I just embrace all people of all lifestyles and I don’t tell them they are bad people.” — Nicki Minaj, quoted in Vibe Magazine. 

“I say girls are beautiful … and they need to be told that, and if they don’t have anyone to tell them that and mean it, I’m gonna tell them that.”  — Nicki Minaj, quoted in Vibe Magazine.

“I want people—especially young girls—to know that in life, nothing is going to be based on sex appeal. You’ve got to have something else to go with that.”  — Nicki Minaj, quoted in Interview Magazine.

“True confidence leaves no room for jealousy. When you know you are great, you have no need to hate.” – Nicki Minaj, source unknown

“Greatness is what we on the brink of.” – Nicki Minaj, lyrics from Moment for Life

Igniting Love for our Neighborhood

Here at the Sarasota Community Studio we use the IGNITE approach to spread the love of our Central-Cocoanut neighborhood with the following 20 sentence stems.  You are welcome to try this out in your own neighborhood too!  

1.     Hello!  I am…     

2.  This is my block…

3.     These are some other people on my block who are also coming together because we love our neighborhood.  Here is the first person…

4.     Here is another person…

5.     Here is another person…

6.     These are some places we love in our neighborhood.  Here is the first place.  It is great because…

7.     Here is another place we love in our neighborhood.  It is great because…

8.     Here is another place we love in our neighborhood.  It is great because…

9.     These are some of the people in other parts of our neighborhood who are also coming together because we love our neighborhood.  Here is the first person…

10. Here is another person…

11. Here is another person…

12. Here are some things we hope will stay the same about our neighborhood.  Here is one thing…

13. Here is another thing…

14. Here is another thing…

15. Here are some things we hope will change about our neighborhood.  Here is one thing…

16.  Here is another thing…

17.   Here is another thing…

18.  Some things we will always remember about living in this neighborhood are…

19.  We hope people will always remember US as neighbors who are…

20.  So there you have it.  Thanks & goodbye!