Sometimes our dreams do come true. And occasionally, a dream points us to where we need to go.
So it was with Christie Quinn, who moved to Portland from the San Francisco Bay Area in 2015, knowing no one here when she arrived. However, soon she had many friends – through her involvement in acting, volunteering at the Gregory Heights Library and at Friends of the Library, and by teaching music – all of this, in addition to her day job as a legal assistant at a large law firm.
"I have very vivid dreams. One morning I woke up in a daze from a dream, asking myself, 'Where are the keys to my bookmobile?' But I had no bookmobile! Suddenly, I realized that was what I wanted to do."
Quinn has fond memories of the bookmobile at her childhood home in Greenville, South Carolina. But she wondered how she could create a bookmobile in Portland – and how she could amass books for one, when she didn't even have a car.
Then a staff person at the nonprofit neighborhood coalition "Southeast Uplift" on S.E. Main Street just happened to steer her in the right direction. "If you really want to do something about getting more books into the hands of children, contact Portland Parks & Recreation," was the suggestion.That Uplift staff person told her about the free lunch and play summer program that PP&R has for children up to 18 years of age. Quinn envisioned a book exchange in Portland's parks.
"I started with nothing. If I hadn't had friends helping me, and people donating books, I could never have done this." The first summer of her book exchange was in 2018.
"That summer we made a huge impact. We posted on social media that we needed books. By the time summer started, I had a total of 500 books. I asked PP&R which parks are the most diverse [in Southeast Portland]. They gave us a list of parks, and we chose Creston and Lents, both of which are part of the free lunch and play program."
So Quinn hung out at Lents Park for two hours a day, and told kids, "If you like these books, bring some from home and we'll do an exchange." Meantime, Quinn's acting friends took on Creston Park for the book exchange. Soon book exchanges were being held for two hours twice a week, at both Creston and Lents Parks.
In 2019 Quinn attended a small nonprofit conference in Portland. When a couple attending the meeting heard of her dream of a bookmobile, they offered her their Dodge mini-van with 200,000 miles on it. She paid them $500, and her roommate built bookshelves in it.
That was the beginning of "The Bookmobile Babe". Quinn chose the name because it was distinctive and alliterative. A "test drive" of the name on some of her friends sealed the decision. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the bookmobile went to Lents Park once a week – and adults would bring books too. "It has exploded," remarks Quinn with a smile. "We donated 200 books and magazines to Transitions Project, and will donate to Portland Homeless Family Solutions [in the future]."
Quinn's latest project is a free summer literacy camp for all ages, which started July 6 and runs through August 20th at Lents and Columbia Parks, on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, from noon until 2 p.m. No sign-ups are required.
"We have weekly themes, and will lead discussions about books and have art activities, and also conduct book exchanges. Week One's theme was indigenous people, and Week Two's theme was environmental issues. Week Three was BLM." A grant from the Portland Parks Foundation is making it possible. Partnering with her are "Reading Is Resistance PDX" and "The Children's Book Bank".
At every turn, one thread leads to another, and people continue to jump in to help "The Bookmobile Babe" with its projects. Back in the pandemic summer of 2020, when Quinn volunteered at the Friends of the Library Store, she learned that volunteers were needed to help get the library bond measure passed.
She stepped up, and when Quinn spoke to the Southeast Portland Rotary Club about the bond measure, she says it was a "God-send". In addition to pitching the bond, she mentioned "The Bookmobile Babe". She needed a fiscal sponsor for The Bookmobile Babe's summer camp, and the club's nonprofit Southeast Portland Rotary Club Foundation became the fiscal sponsor.
When Christy Sweany from Northeast Portland came to Lents Park with her child and met Quinn, she started helping out with the book exchange. This past January she became Quinn's assistant, storing and cataloguing all of the books on "Liblib", a home library management system that can be operated on an iPad.
"I like to say we're building the airplane as we're flying it," Quinn remarks. "But I love it; we're doing the right thing." We'll look forward to where The Bookmobile Babe flies next.
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