Jessica Ralli | Movers & Shakers 2020–Advocates

In 2018, when Jessica Ralli, coordinator of early literacy programs for Brooklyn Public Library (BPL), learned about the federal family separation policies at the southwest border, she reached out to the legal organizations representing separated and unaccompanied kids. Some were as young as three and "had to endure long wait times in difficult court proceedings, often resulting in stress and trauma," she says.

Sidsel Bech-Petersen

CURRENT POSITION

Coordinator of Early Literacy Programs, Brooklyn Public Library, NY

DEGREE

MA in Early Childhood Special Education, Teachers College, Columbia University, 2007

FOLLOW

Jessicaralli.com; @jessicaearlylit
slj.com/?authorName=Jessica%20Ralli

Photo by Gregg Richards, Brooklyn PL

 

Backpacks from Brooklyn

In 2018, when Jessica Ralli, coordinator of early literacy programs for Brooklyn Public Library (BPL), learned about the federal family separation policies at the southwest border, she reached out to the legal organizations representing separated and unaccompanied kids. Some were as young as three and "had to endure long wait times in difficult court proceedings, often resulting in stress and trauma," she says.

When she proposed giving the kids backpacks filled with age-appropriate Spanish books, art materials, and activities, the lawyers jumped at the idea. Within weeks, Ralli and her BPL colleagues, with help from volunteers, sent 400 filled backpacks to partner organizations such as Kids in Need of Defense. In 2019, the support of Urban Librarians Unite and the Robin Hood Foundation helped Ralli send 350 more backpacks. Some of the planned 400 spring 2020 backpacks were distributed before COVID-19 put the project on pause; the remainder may be handed out later in the fall. She plans to apply for a grant to turn this into a sustainable ongoing program.

"What is truly unique about Jessica is that she continues to advocate for how Brooklyn’s libraries can support young children and families," says Rachel Payne, coordinator of early childhood services for BPL, and Ralli’s co-author on the First Steps column for School Library Journal.

In 2019, Ralli organized BPL’s first-ever Early Childhood Symposium, which was devoted to the impact of immigration policy on young children. The 2020 symposium will look at gender development and diversity. It’s postponed till the fall, but in the meantime, Ralli tells LJ, "my colleague Rachel Payne and I may work with some of the presenters for a series of weekly Professional Development webinars." 

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