This is an updated version of this story which ran in the print edition on July 14, 2019.
WESTERLY — Former First Lady Laura Bush has a little something to do with a new community program underway at The Westerly Library and Wilcox Park.
The program, said William Lancellotta, the library's assistant director, is called Community Spotlight, and was created thanks to a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, in the Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program's "EXCITE Transformation for Libraries" project.
Awarded by The Connecticut State Library, the $3,000 grant is intended to assist libraries in heir effort to "inform and inspire all in their communities," and "encourage social connection for Westerly residents and information exchange with local organizations and businesses."
Initially available for Connecticut libraries, the grant program has been expanded to include "the whole Eastern Seaboard," Lancellotta said.
"We are getting to connect with the community in exciting new ways, using different methods and creative ideas," he added.
The program, which got off the ground in May with a tour of the library followed by a reception, allows the library to pair up monthly with people from businesses, nonprofit organizations, or services at special events intended to be informative and fun. Often, said Lancellotta, they include an interactive activity.
In June, the library paired up with the Westerly Land Trust for a full moon hike at the Dr. John Champlin Glacier Park. July's event was held last week with Save the Bay and put volunteers to work on a downtown cleanup. There are two more cleanup events scheduled in August with Humans for the Future, a local nonprofit that shares information about marine debris and conducts beach cleanups. September will see a pairing with Stand Up for Animals for a "Family Friendly Tour," and in October, there will be a dress-up-if-you'd-like showing of the "Rocky Horror Picture Show" in conjunction with the United Theatre at the library.
The full moon hike was a "big hit," Lancellotta said and was packed with adventurous souls eager to learn more about the land trust.
Last week, residents met up on the library's esplanade with gloves and buckets. They went to the Town Dock and boat launch area for a community cleanup, accompanied by David Prescott, Save the Bay's South County coastkeeper, who shared information about the Pawcatuck River.
The Westerly-Pawcatuck program was designed following interview sessions with local residents and library users.
"We did some focus groups to figure out what people wanted," Lancellotta explained, "to see what people were most interested in."
"Most people said they wanted to connect but didn't know how," he said.
In response, the library came up with the Community Spotlight, idea, a way to introduce or reintroduce organizations to the community.
Aimed at both newcomers and longtime residents, the Community Spotlight grant has also allowed for collaborations with the Jonnycake Center, Grey Sail Brewing and Literacy Volunteers of Washington County.
"We are open to ideas," said Lancellotta, "and would be interested in pairing up to do a business showcase ... or a restaurant."
"We could even do a cooking demonstration," he added. "As long as it's free and open to the public."
Lancellotta said he's looking forward to the upcoming Community Spotlights, especially with Stand up for Animals and the United Theatre in the fall.
During the showing of "Rocky Horror Picture Show," people will be encouraged to dress in costume, he said. At the Stand Up For Animals event in September, the focus will be on creating a family event.
"Who knows," he said, "maybe someone will go home with a cat."
For more information about the Community Spotlight program, call Lancellotta at 596-2877, extension 328.