Cedlien Guillame, 8, offers to donate a book to the Free Little Library outside Shiloh Baptist Church of Orlando. With her are Queen Massaline, Interim Supervisor of Community Engagement, and Corey Johnson, Supervisor of Meter Operations.

With the goal of inspiring young and old residents to read books, OUC and community partners set up four Free Little Libraries in the Parramore neighborhood on May 15, 2021.

Painted by OUC volunteers, each Free Little Library resembles a miniature wooden house with a pitched roof and glass door that opens to two shelves of books, two dozen or so in all. Three units were installed on in-ground posts outside of John H. Jackson Neighborhood Center, Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church and Shiloh Baptist Church of Orlando. The fourth was installed on an outside wall of the New Image Youth Center. Orlando City Commissioner Regina Hill (District 5) was on hand to help dedicate the libraries in the community she represents.

Anyone can borrow a book from a Free Little Library, as well as leave donated books. OUC employees contributed more than 300 books to help launch the project, and partnering locations have pledged to keep the libraries stocked.

The Free Little Library project originally began as a Community Engagement-led 2020 OUCares effort focusing on literacy, but it was put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Parramore-based Free Little Libraries are now part of OUC’s Empowerment Zone 4 the Future initiative.

“We hope to inspire anyone who passes by a Free Little Library to stop and borrow a book, read it, return it and get another one,” said Alandus Sims, OUC’s Project Manager of Strategic Community Partnerships. “Reading is fundamental to learning; it expands a person’s knowledge, vocabulary and communications skills.”

Sims added that other community stakeholders in the Empowerment Zone have expressed interest in partnering with OUC to install Free Little Libraries at their locations.

Derrick Rouse, Supervisor of Facilities, and José Rodriguez, Facilities Maintenance Technician, installed the libraries at the four Parramore sites, which are within walking distance of each other.

OUC has designated the economically disadvantaged area encompassing the 32805 ZIP code (it runs from I-4 west to John Young Parkway and Colonial Drive south to Kaley Avenue) as the Empowerment Zone. Our Empowerment Zone Taskforce seeks to help revitalize the community by leveraging OUC’s resources and partnerships to enhance educational opportunities, health and wellness programs, jobs training and sustainable housing.

Earlier this month, 14 residents in the Empowerment Zone began a four-month 420-hour pre-apprenticeship training program supported by OUC.

Alandus Sims, Project Manager of Strategic Community Partnerships, and City Commissioner Regina Hill join Corey Johnson, Supervisor of Meter Operations, (far right) and his brother, Thad, at the Free Little Library dedication at John H. Jackson Neighborhood Center. Commissioner Hill represents District 5, which is the focus of OUC’s Empowerment 4 the Future Zone.