Earlier this week visitors lined up at the top of the James Blackstone Memorial Library steps, waiting for the library doors to open. Some were headed for a computer. Some came to sign out a book. (Yes, books made of paper remain popular). It was just before 9 a.m.
Among those waiting in line were Eunice Lasala and Kathleen Fox, members of the board of the Branford Community Foundation who came to mark a special occasion – the donation of a $100,000 matching grant, the foundation’s largest grant ever. It will go toward the library’s $4.8 million renovation and will be distributed over four years. The idea is that the foundation will match all gifts up to $1,000 to support the library’s fund-raising campaign.
A few weeks ago library leaders announced the major capital campaign to raise funds for a renovation project that will bring the iconic 1896 library into the 21st century.
Liza Janssen Petra, the foundation’s executive director, said the library is seeking to get more people involved in the fund-raising campaign, people who will make smaller gifts.
“It is very exciting to be part of this effort,” she said of the grass-roots effort. “People think of philanthropy as needing to be an Oprah Winfrey or a Bill Gates. You don’t. You just have to care enough to provide a gift.” Her aim, she told those assembled in the lower level of the library, is to “galvanize and energize those gifts at the smaller level.”
The Branford Community Foundation is led by Stephanie Farber, the president; Petra, executive director, who came aboard in 2015; and Attorney James Perito who oversees the library’s investment committee. Perito praised the library’s work over the decades, saying it was time to give back, to “play a role in helping the library in coming years.” This is an exciting project, he said, adding that Petra and librarian Karen Jensen have been instrumental in the library’s growth.
The Blackstone has previously received a $1 million state library grant and is seeking $3 million in bonding from the town. It is asking the community to contribute to the renovation, whose cost is expected to be about $4.8 million. The goal of the Board of Trustees is to raise $800,000.
The goal was measured in a free-standing book rack that was placed in the center of the room.
Jensen said so far the campaign has collected $275,000, including gifts from the Friends of the Library and board members. She said the library has also received bequests, including one from the family of Susan Cosgrove Barnes.
Jensen said the goal is to begin renovations of the library by spring 2018.