Tonia Burton | Movers & Shakers 2019 – Community Builders

In 2011, when Tonia Burton became children’s services consultant at the Central Library of Rochester & Monroe County, the Children’s Center was in trouble. It had little programming and a limited collection, and few families used it. The library board considered closing it—unless Burton could turn it around.

Tonia Burton

CURRENT POSITION

Children's Services Consultant, Central Library of Rochester & Monroe County, NY

DEGREE

MLIS, University at Buffalo, 2003

FOLLOW

raisingareader.org; playwalkroc.fun; wxxi.org/highlights/2018/07/wxxi-kids-2018-summer-exploration-stations

Photo by Gerry Szymanski

MS_logo_300x81

Hope Generator

In 2011, when Tonia Burton became children’s services consultant at the Central Library of Rochester & Monroe County, the Children’s Center was in trouble. It had little programming and a limited collection, and few families used it. The library board considered closing it—unless Burton could turn it around.

“Tonia was challenged to reinvent the Children’s Center and given a year to do so,” says central library director Patricia Uttaro. “She delivered more than anyone expected.”

Burton added interactive programming, trained the staff on delivering story times tied to state standards for early learning objectives, and introduced the first summer learning program, which now reaches thousands. She also fostered a nonjudgmental atmosphere toward families affected by poverty, homelessness, addiction, or incarceration. “Tonia has focused attention on family literacy as the vehicle to move children and their families out of poverty,” Uttaro says.

One of her earliest and most ambitious programs was Raising a Reader (RAR), launched in fall 2012. The data-driven, national family reading program provides weekly bags of books to parents of children zero to five. The program now serves
480 families. “The RAR model takes place in the community, not just the library,” she says.

Library staff routinely go to preschools, home day cares, and elementary schools to rotate the reader bags, conduct a story time, offer parent engagement workshops, and more. “In the last five years, the Children’s Center [outreach has gone] from 132 visits serving 1,961 patrons to 685 visits serving 10,857 patrons,” she says. “RAR gives parents/caregivers the opportunity to change the culture of reading in their home and transform their lives.”

Burton has done more than just raise readers. In 2015, as a result of a $500,000 grant to Rochester, she became supervisor of a dozen AmeriCorps volunteers who would work on RAR, early literacy, and financial literacy programs. The grant required that at least half be recruited from and serve in neighborhoods with the highest concentrations of poverty, which meant that many of them had little experience in a 9–5 job. Burton taught the volunteers not only job skills but also how to navigate seemingly insurmountable everyday obstacles. Burton says she got as much as she gave: “Without the AmeriCorps funding, I wouldn’t have been able to grow RAR.”

In 2015, Burton partnered with local public radio station WXXI to create Exploration Stations, an interactive STEM (science, technology, engineering, math)–based summer learning program. She also collaborated with public health agency Common Ground Health to develop a Play Walk, play stations running between the Strong Museum of Play and the Central Library; it won a 2018 KaBOOM grant for construction to begin in 2019.

“There are so many people I work with and serve who have no hope,” says Burton. “Generational poverty…tricks people into believing they have no options…no [possibility] of a better future. I am so blessed to…have the opportunity to empower people, to believe in them, whether it’s a three-year-old or their caregiver.”

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William Yust

Tonia Burton receives my highest praise and admiration for her innovative and compassionate approach to educating and giving hope to some of our community's most fragile members. Bravo to her and all the people she works with and for! As a trustee of the Monroe County Library System and a life-time resident of the Rochester Area Community I am very proud of her.

Posted : Mar 12, 2019 07:22


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