Students, parents, residents and leaders of the Crest Street neighborhood squeezed into one room of the W.I. Patterson Community Center last Wednesday, surrounded by books and underneath a colorful sign that labeled it all “Ms. Betty’s Reading Corner.”
The neighbors had come to celebrate the grand opening of that room, where local children will have access to new books and to a space set aside solely for reading.
Betty Johnson, known affectionately as “Ms. Betty,” is the creator of the Crest Street Tutorial Project, a Duke-Durham Neighborhood Partnership organization that provides afterschool and summer programming for neighborhood students. Ms. Betty was able to realize her vision for a reading room by applying for funds from Doing Good in the Neighborhood, Duke University’s employee giving campaign.
Durham Mayor pro Tem Core Cole-McFadden, who said she knew Ms. Betty back when Crest Street was known as Hickstown, spoke about the importance of reading and of efforts, like Ms. Betty’s Reading Corner, to promote literacy in Durham.
“It is so important, Betty, that you and Willie (Patterson) and everyone else involved here have embarked on this mission,” Cole-McFadden said. “Children, you are blessed to have people who truly love you, care about you, and will do anything to help you succeed in life.”
A dozen or so elementary school students sat on the colorful new rug in Ms. Betty’s Reading Corner as Willie Patterson, Crest Street Community Council President, and Barbara Jentleson, Director of Duke-Durham Neighborhood Partnership Academic Enrichment, thanked Ms. Betty for her vision and work. When the remarks were over, and Ms. Betty invited everyone to enjoy cake and refreshments, the students stayed behind: On the new couch and the bright new rug, they gathered to read their new books.
“I am overwhelmed,” Patterson said of the scene in Ms. Betty’s Reading Corner. “We cannot describe how valuable Ms. Betty is to us and to the neighborhood, and how blessed these kids are to be in a neighborhood like this, where people care.”