Library expands its role as resource for the community

Staff Writer

 Mayor Adam Schneider (left to right), Long Branch Free Public Library Director Tonya Garcia and Mimi Lee, of the NJ State Library, launch Community Connects. Mayor Adam Schneider (left to right), Long Branch Free Public Library Director Tonya Garcia and Mimi Lee, of the NJ State Library, launch Community Connects. Long Branch residents in need of assistance with housing, healthcare and other necessary services will no longer have to travel all over Monmouth County for help.

Tonya Garcia, director of the Long Branch Free Public Library, said during an Oct. 19 press conference the library has initiated a Community Connects program to bring community resources to the library to assist residents in need.

“What we are hoping to have is 12 to 15 agencies that will actually provide point-ofservice here at the library, which goes above point and referral but actually providing service here,” Garcia said.

The agencies participating in the program include: the Monmouth Family Health Center; the Community Affairs and Resource Center; the Long Branch Department of Human Services; the Long Branch Concordance; the Visiting Nurse Association; the Monmouth County Women, Infants and Children program; the FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties; the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD); the Boys and Girls Club; Family and Children’s Services; and Brookdale Community College, as well as services offered by the library.

The services will include help with alcohol and drug abuse, senior services, assistance finding healthcare and educational resources.

According to Garcia, centralizing the agencies will make it easier for Long Branch families to access help.

“If you want to come in and apply for a service it’s a one-stop shop,” she said. “Just the toll that it takes on a family having to travel to Ocean Township and Freehold just to get the service they need.

“I think it is important for the residents of Long Branch to have one place to go that is trusted and respected.”

Mayor Adam Schneider said he has often referred to the library, located at 328 Broadway, as the “nicest building in town” and this program will only expand the library’s critical role. “In a town as diverse as Long Branch that’s no small measure,” Schneider said. “It means that people who aren’t going to walk into City Hall or the senior center or participate in civic activities come here and they feel comfortable.

“Making this a place that even more people can come to get information and services so vital to our community.”

According to the New Jersey Library Association, as the need and demand for services in urban areas continues to grow while funding declines, New Jersey’s urban libraries are called on to identify issues in their communities and solutions as well as advocate for support.

Garcia said the plan is to have each of the agencies involved in the program schedule specific hours during each month at the library, which averages 10,000 visitors per month.

She said the second part of the program is an appointment-based social work partnership with Monmouth University to be held at the library.

David Perez, an intern at Monmouth University, will lead the social work program and he said the importance of the initiative is that each person may need a different service.

“It’s not only food stamps, it’s HUD with affordable housing or the many different services that the Long Branch Concor- dance provides,” he said. “I appreciate the variety of agencies that we have here.”

Perez said the program at the library could be seen as an example for other urban libraries.

“Trenton is watching us, and they want to make sure that we are going to be a success because once we are, then this pilot program is going to replicated among libraries across the state,” he said.

“As a resident of Long Branch I am very proud to say that we are leading the way on this new initiative.”

Mimi Lee, diversity and community fi engagement specialist at the New Jersey State Library, explained that the role of the public library has changed over time.

“Public libraries are vibrant community centers providing free access to a wealth of information,” she said. “Nowadays the need for public libraries to tackle social exclusion, engaging in social justice becomes ever more urgent.

“The libraries are becoming real places for the community and embracing diversity.”