Reaching Out Through Community Spaces

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Mompreneur

by Jeanne Davant

Veronica Bélanger hosts meetings of the Mompreneur Network every second and fourth Monday morning at East Library. While the members of the business development group are hearing presentations, pitching their businesses, and referring client opportunities, their children romp and read in the Children’s area, attended to by a childcare provider. Bélanger also uses the MacLaren Hall at Knights of Columbus Hall adjacent to Penrose Library to introduce prospective members to the network.

The Mompreneur Network is just one of dozens of small businesses, nonprofits, garden clubs, theater groups, and other community organizations that utilize Pikes Peak Library District’s (PPLD) facilities for meetings, classes, study groups, and events of all kinds. Nearly 70 spaces across the District are available for groups to reserve and use at no cost. Most libraries have at least one meeting or study space; Penrose Library, East Library, and Library 21c all have large and multiple spaces. Through a partnership between PPLD and the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder’s Office, some locations are also voter service and polling centers for upcoming primary and general elections.

Hosting groups like the Mompreneur Network, or discussion group Socrates Café, and tutoring services Love to Learn is one way PPLD fulfills its mission of cultivating spaces for belonging, personal growth, and strong communities. From young children to retirees, the Library District encourages people to gather and to learn. (Find out more and reserve a meeting space!)

On a recent Friday evening, Bélanger arrived early at Knights of Columbus Hall to prepare for an introductory meeting. There to help her were Dustin Booth and Nawal Shahril of the Library District’s Creative Services team, who set up an audio-visual system for the meeting.

“MacLaren Hall is used for a variety of events including club meetings, concerts, theater performances, and dances as well as business presentations and classes,” Booth says. “It can accommodate 195 people; tables and chairs, a PA system, stage, projector, laptop, and screen are available for groups to use. The hall’s mezzanine, which serves as a coworking and networking space, has a capacity of 17 people, and the lower-level classroom can host presentations or meetings for groups up to 21 people.”

Bélanger, a former salesperson and social media consultant, founded the Mompreneur Network after years of feeling like she was penalized for being a mom.

“Being a parent and an entrepreneur combine to form a lifestyle and shouldn’t be treated as separate,” she tells the women who have come to learn about Mompreneur. “What if having a family doesn’t have anything to do with how professional you are?”

She started out having meetings in her home but approached the Library District after the network’s growth required more space.

“Having this space has made a big difference for us,” says Nancy Moore, Mompreneur Network’s president. “Everyone has really grown, and some have started new businesses.”

Lively Debate

Most Tuesday afternoons, Joe and Elizabeth Davis travel from their Flying Horse home to Monument Library to take part in lively but respectful discussions of thought-provoking subjects that range from philosophy and religion to politics, morality, and other timely topics at the Socrates Café.

“We’ve been attending the Socrates Café for about 12 years,” Joe says.

The Davises retired to Colorado Springs after serving with the International Health Office of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Joe had been a member of the library board in their previous hometown in Tennessee. After they retired, they were looking for a place where they could continue to pursue their interest in international topics and where they would be welcomed.

“The Library was one of the things that led us to move here,” he says. “We were impressed with the services offered and the range of personnel. We found staff to be very helpful.”

Shortly after they arrived, they visited Monument Library — the closest facility to them — and discovered a welcoming environment and a particularly interesting group.

They met some of their best friends through the Socrates Café, which attracts about 20 participants each session. Moderated by Hans Post Uilerweer, the group recently discussed topics including border security, immigration, and emigration; Russia and Ukraine; post-modernism; and gender and identity.

The Library making space available for these conversations “is an extraordinary service,” Joe says. “It’s part of the openness of the community as a whole that is well exhibited by the Library, and I suspect most people go away from these discussions having profited from them, having learned something, and seeing something in a different light.”

Helping Kids Learn

Stroll through the second floor of Library 21c on Monday evenings, and you are likely to see students ranging from kindergartners to adults working one-on-one with tutors to reach their academic and personal goals. Love to Learn, a nonprofit network of tutoring professionals, families, and kids, moved to East Library in 2020 after outgrowing its previous facilities at a church, and a year later moved to Library 21c. The summer session runs until two weeks before school starts and picks up again after the semester begins.

“Probably 80 percent of our kids are in special education,” founder Linette Weise says. “It is a free community program; no one is turned away. It’s open to the whole community, and that is what PPLD is all about.”

“The Library’s facilities, including accommodations ranging from cubicles, desks, and tables to the large Ent conference room, are ideal for the program,” says Cathy Bessenbacher, who helps Weise run the program. The children and their tutors can work individually for the bulk of the hour-and-a-half sessions and then come together in the conference room at the end for group activities.

Being at the Library has several benefits for the kids, parents, and the program. Students can use their library cards to check out books they need. Parents often stay and use the Library’s facilities as well, and many return with their families for other Library events.

Bessenbacher says the Library supports the program in many ways, such as providing copy services for her sign-in lists and making Love to Learn’s brochures available to patrons.

“It’s bright and open, and the people are very friendly,” she says. “They really want to help us. So, it’s a win-win for both of us.”

This story was originally featured in the fall issue of District Discovery, PPLD’s quarterly magazine.