An Englewood woman who is also former educator is crossing oceans to provide people with access to books.
Veleta Jenkins, a former English teacher at Dayton Job Corps, is the founder and CEO of Library for Africa, which she co-founded with her former student, Darius Ricks, with the goal of constructing a public library in Liberia while also promoting literacy in the local area.
“Our mission is to raise funds to build the first public library in Monrovia,” Jenkins said.
Originally from Gary, Ind., Jenkins has lived in the Dayton area for over 30 years. Jenkins earned her undergraduate degree at from Indiana University, completing her graduate work at Wright State University.
Jenkins has over 20 years of experience in education, including as a substitute in public schools, as a teacher in charter schools, and as an English teacher at Dayton Job Corps.
“My last two years of teaching at Dayton Job Corps, I had taught 85 students from countries in Africa,” Jenkins said. She had never taught immigrants prior to this experience, saying, “It was something about these African students that really inspired me to want to help them.”
It was there she taught and got connected with Ricks, who is originally from Liberia, a country on the West African coast. When it came time to throw out old encyclopedias and manuals one day, Ricks asked Jenkins if he could keep them instead of throwing them out.
“He said, ‘I would love to have those,’” Jenkins said. Ricks wanted to bring those books to a struggling school in need of books and supplies in Liberia.
“He said, ‘My country does not have a library,’” Jenkins said. “Immediately after he told me that, my immediate response was, ‘How can I help?’”
Prior to getting the idea to construct a public library in Liberia, they first aimed at helping the school in Liberia that was in need to books.
“We had a book drive, and we collected several hundred books.” Jenkins said. “We shipped boxes of books to Liberia to that school.” She Ricks went home to Liberia, adding, “The kids were so appreciative” of the books they collected.
Jenkins’ vision grew, and she knew she didn’t want to stop with a book drive. She decided to resign from her previous teaching position in 2019 and founded the nonprofit Library for Africa.
“We purchased two acres of land in Liberia,” she said. “We purchased the land two years ago.”
Library for Africa has a goal for fundraising $350,000 to build this library, which they also recently held a gala for earlier this month.
Here in the Dayton area, Library for Africa also promotes literacy by providing educational resources to underserved youth in Dayton. Those resources can include iPads, bookbags filled with schools supplies, subscription k-6 lessons, and more. Ricks, who currently lives in the Columbus area, brings books to schools in Liberia when he returns home.
“It feels great. It feels wonderful to be able to do that,” Jenkins said. “Everyone should have access to literary opportunities so they can succeed in life.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, they also supported communities in Liberia by distributing rice and hot meals, hand sanitizer, and face masks. They also helped with promoting vaccinations, promoting anti-drug abuse awareness, and sponsoring a soccer tournament, according to the group’s “Library for Liberia (build public library)” GoFundMe page.
For more information, visit libraryforafrica.org.