You can find some of Elon Carter’s favorite books in a small blue box in front of the COCOA House, the Schenectady after-school program he frequented.
The 11-year-old enjoyed classics such as “Charlotte’s Web” and “Danny the Champion of the World.” He was partial to mysteries and stories about monsters, and liked graphic novels — books that tell stories in a comic book-style.
“These are all books he read while he was here,” William Rivas, the community activist who runs the COCOA House, told me.
“He would get off the bus every day and go to the library,” Elon’s mother, Desnae Felton, recalled. “There were days when I would be waiting for him to come through the door, and my daughter would say he went to the library.”
I suspect Elon would have loved the lending library that now stands outside the COCOA House on Stanley Street. He might even have been one of the first children to pull open its door, dig through the titles on its shelves and find a book to take home and read.
Instead, the little library honors Elon’s memory by sharing his love of reading with children from the community.
The Schenectady boy died in August, in a late-night car crash on Interstate 890 in Rotterdam that also killed a 32-year-old woman from Troy, Latara Chandler.
“I wanted to do something special for him,” Rivas said. “I wanted to keep his legacy alive.”
The little library is a fitting tribute to a child who by all accounts was a delight to be around, although “he was definitely a kid who could drive you insanely crazy,” Felton told me. “He loved learning. He had aspirations and dreams. He liked music and dancing.”
The library in front of the COCOA House was erected Tuesday.
It’s part of a broader effort, spearheaded by Schenectady resident Emily Willey, to build little public libraries all over the city.
Willey’s libraries are similar to those built with the imprimatur of the Little Free Library, a non-profit organization that sells ready-to-assemble library kits and pre-built library designs that typically cost over $300. People who purchase these libraries and set them up become part of the official Little Free Library network.
Willey’s libraries aren’t part of the LFL network — “I thought I could do it for cheaper,” she told me — and they have a different name, painted above the door in a pleasing white script: “Our Community Library.”
Her goal, Willey said, is to help spread literacy throughout Schenectady.
She’s off to a great start.
Her first community library, built on Crane Street two years ago, has given out 2,000 books. In 2019, Willey received a $1,400 grant from the Schenectady Foundation to build 10 more community libraries. Five have gone up in the past month, and a sixth, at Central Park, will be built next week.
It’s a terrific project, and especially needed now, when many libraries remain closed, large numbers of children are studying remotely and it’s harder for kids to access books. (Schenectady County Public Library has announced a phased reopening plan that will begin Oct. 5 with limited in-person services at some locations.)
Elon would have been a seventh-grader at Oneida Middle School this year.
He started going to the COCOA House two years ago, when Rivas took over the program with the hope of revitalizing it. The program mixes mentoring, academics and fun, giving children a cozy, homey place to spend their after-school hours.
It was a shock to realize I had met Elon on a visit to the COCOA House in October 2018.
A slender boy with bright, curious eyes, he told me that the after-school program was “different from school” because the kids could play games once their homework was completed.
Initially, Elon and Rivas didn’t get along — the boy resisted Rivas’ directive that he read for a half hour every afternoon.
“He would say, ‘I just came from school, I don’t want to read,’” Rivas recalled.
The negative attitude was short-lived.
“He became the best reader in the whole group,” Rivas said.
We lost a young man with a promising future when Elon’s life was cut short by tragedy.
I’m glad I got to learn a little bit more about him — and I hope that the next time you pick up a book to read for pleasure, you pause for a moment to remember Elon and his love of books.