Earth Day at Forest Hills Library
Building A Foundation as Queens’ Youngest Volunteers
By Michael Perlman
A day prior to Earth Day, under a beaming sun on a mild spring morning, blooming opportunities were underway at the Forest Hills Library for some of Queens’ youngest and their parents.
As a team, they planted seeds for marigolds, petunias and sunflowers, and learned how to foster healthy growth, as well as participated in two nature-inspired arts and crafts sessions and storytime. They also made new friends, while learning about the holiday and its importance of restoring their community and the planet.
It all began on April 22, 1970, when the inaugural Earth Day was observed, a day which helped launch the Environmental Protection Agency and the Clean Water and Endangered Species Act.
At the time, an approximate 20 million nationwide residents attended events in community gathering spots and schools. According to the Library of Congress, on Earth Day’s 20th anniversary, over 200 million residents spanning 141 countries participated in festivities.
“Earth Day is a great way to defend nature and the earth that are helpless and in need of our help,” said Children’s Librarian Lucianne Pastorello of the Forest Hills Library, who worked passionately and tirelessly with volunteers to make the event a reality, in an interview. She builds upon her experience as a 20-year children’s librarian.
In 2019, She won the QPL Innovation Grant for her “Kids Going Green” series of programs.
“I taught many ways to help the earth, and making a difference for the planet and nature mean very much to me. I continue to incorporate it into my programs,” she said.
At the time, a child at work asked her, “Ms. Lucy, why are the polar bears drowning? It makes me sad.” Then she knew that it was her calling.
“Volunteering is a great way to give back to the community and the world, which especially needs a lot of kindness and understanding right now,” she added.
The children designed a poster with cutouts of flowers and bees, birds with rainbows, earthworms and the earth that they colored with magic markers. A colorful slogan read, “Forest Hills Library Community Garden. It takes a village to raise a child.”
They also drew flowers, trees, the earth, and stars, as well as complementary images with slogans reading “Don’t pollute the ocean” and “Keep the plants alive.” In advance, Pastorello designed a creative display with “Spring Into Reading” and floral and bunny in a basket cutouts. Each book tied into an Earth Day theme, including “Butterflies Belong Here,” “Khalil and Mr. Hagerty and the Backyard Treasures” and “Trillions of Trees.”
“I love to do crafts at the library and make new friends,” said five-year-old Madeline Huie of Rego Park, who volunteered with her three-year-old sister, Matilda Huie. Their mother Diandra Huie said, “They enjoyed planting the seeds and feeling the dirt in their hands. They also help their grandma often with her garden.” She is always happy to lend a helping hand and lead by example. She explained, “I like to teach my daughters to help others, which is a wonderful gift that you can give. It’s also always nice to find new opportunities for my girls to learn about and explore. We enjoy the library, as it is a place that is safe and fun to explore new concepts.”
For the ceremony, Pastorello displayed their poster in front of the planting bed near the entranceway. She asked what’s Earth Day without (blowing) bubbles as a good icebreaker, and then sang, “Welcome children, welcome children, come and plant… I hope you have fun, come and plant” to the tune of “Frère Jacques.” She also sang “If you love Earth Day, clap your hands…. stomp your feet… If you really love the Earth and you don’t want to see it hurt…. If you really love the earth, shout hooray… If you really love the earth, do all three” to the sounds of the childhood classic. Later, she played Michael Jackson’s “Earth Song.”
Pastorello pointed out that sunflowers need to be planted in the back with two feet apart to grow, with wildflowers in the middle, and marigolds in the front. Popsicle sticks served as markers.
She took out a book, “My Wish for the World” and asked the children what their wish was. That generated responses including “To take trash out of the ocean” and “Trying not to burn oil.” She asked, “Who wishes for a kinder place?” which was followed by “We have many kind people in Forest Hills.” She read, “I wish we would respect nature and just let it be.” She asked, “Why do we need trees?” and then said, “We have beautiful trees in front of the library. They give us oxygen and cool us off.” Pastorello also touched upon global warming and all creatures. “When you take care of the earth, it’s helping you,” she said. Another interactive book that she read from is “Sun Flower Lion,” which enabled children to visualize and respect animals.
The children received “Stop & Shop Grow & Learn Seed Pods” which included basil and parsley, and they also enjoyed designing sunflowers and marigolds from repurposed materials.
Upon realizing the turnout of approximately 150 participants throughout the event, as well as the expressions on their faces, Pastorello experienced great pride. She explained, “I was so happy to see so many volunteers at my Earth Day Program, which shows they care about the earth and Earth Day. What made this most meaningful is how the Forest Hills Library staff and community joined forces with me to make this event a success for the children.”
“If we do not do a better job, we are going to be celebrating Mars Day real soon,” said Flushing resident Chi Lei, who accompanied his three-year-old daughter Aria Lei to the event. He found it to be an educational initiative, where children were able to participate in many necessary steps to grow plants. He explained, “Volunteering lets you connect to your community and make it a better place, since we are all connected in some ways on the same spinning rock. My daughter was really excited to receive the gifted grow kits and played with them, first thing after arriving home.”
Kew Gardens resident Sandra Rios was eager to introduce Earth Day traditions to her three-year-old son, Elijah Rios, who said, “I am ready to plant!” They visit the library often, so she feels that it will be fun for him to view the flowers that he planted throughout the milder seasons. “Elijah is at an age where he recalls a lot of events and asks questions about them, so I could remind him of that time we came to celebrate Earth Day,” she said.
Showing Rios’ son about community involvement bears much significance. “I want him to learn how we can collectively make a difference, so getting together to plant flowers with other families was a great hands-on experience for my toddler. After all, he was super excited and involved.”
Many behind-the-scenes aspects fit together like pieces of a puzzle, resulting in a memorable Earth Day achievement. The library’s page, Ying-Ju Lai, helped Pastorello facilitate the planting and planned the planting grid while she was off the clock, as an extension of her dedication. “She helped me obtain complementary seeds from the Forest Hills Tree Stewards and Commonpoint Queens (such as volunteer Marie H. Zanzal),” said Pastorello. “I also posted on the Buy Nothing app, requesting seeds and gloves, which was the idea of one of my regular patrons and a mom, Diandra Huie. My colleagues Lisa Kooper and Selina Sharmin of the Central Library purchased gloves and shovels out of their own pockets.”
Pastorello also expressed gratitude toward parents who attended the arts and crafts sessions and helped clean up, as well as volunteers Brynna Quigley and Danitza Lezama, who helped with a variety of chores. “We all worked hard for this program. I believe in not taking credit for other people’s work,” said Pastorello.
Lucianne Pastorello pouring the soil after teaching how to plant, Photo by Michael Perlman
Pastorello shared her appreciation for the Secret Garden Project, who was one of the donors for the seeds.
On a larger picture, the community can anticipate diverse activities featuring face painting, live animals, craft afternoons, nail polish sessions, creative writing for kids, toddler time, toddler learning center pursuits, and chess and board games. In addition, for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, activities will include an origami workshop, Mandarin storytime and dragon crafts.
Pastorello’s inbox is always open, as her creative energy and heart beats in the direction of children, parents, and all patrons. An events calendar can be picked up from the children’s library on the second-story. She is also open to requests at [email protected]