Kids’ World Assistant Manager
Arlington Heights Memorial Library
Arlington Heights, Illinois
Maria Papanastassiou is always striving to make the library more accessible to the community. Her efforts have transformed the Arlington Heights Memorial Library into a welcoming community hub for special needs children and their families.
By partnering with C.I.T.Y. (Children In Therapy and You) of Support, a nonprofit that provides assistance to families with children in therapy, the library offers families opportunities to participate in and enjoy library programs. One of those programs is the library’s playgroups, which serve children with various needs including Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, sensory processing disorder, and language delays. According to one of Maria’s nominators, the library’s playgroups can include “a picnic blanket with pretend food to facilitate imaginative play, a circus tent for children needing a low-sensory environment, stepping stones to practice gross motor skills, felt characters with story boards to encourage language expansion, make-your-own unicorn crafts for fine motor development or insta-snow for sensory exploration.” Parents as well as siblings are all encouraged to participate in the playgroups.
To help parents and caregivers connect with developmental therapists in an informal setting, Maria developed “Our Time: Caregivers, Coffee and Play.” The scheduled meet-ups give families and caregivers time to discuss and share resources and support one another. And the sessions also include an activity for those who bring their children.
She also instituted “Early Open for Families,” for special needs children to be able to experience the library’s exhibits by offering an intimate, quiet setting before the library opens their doors to the general public.