Stephen Draper, 27, laughs as Kashmere Watson, 6, tries to finish her coloring before Draper can place all the crayons back into their box at the Moody Manor Reading Room in Toledo.
At 3:30 on a recent Tuesday afternoon, the “Reading Room” at Moody Manor is bustling.
Young girls seated around a table are working on homework worksheets.
A child who has finished her homework is sitting on the floor working on a puzzle.
A volunteer is reading a book to a group of younger kids.
Overseeing it all is Sandra Draper, asking the children around her, “Do you have homework? Are you done with your homework?” When the noise grows too loud, she claps her hands to get the children’s attention.
The children in the Reading Room all live at Moody Manor, the Kent Street apartment complex that was the site of a gang-related shooting last month that claimed the life of a 1-year-old girl and seriously wounded her 2-year-old sister. Dozens of stuffed animals still sit outside the apartment at the site of the fatal shooting. Three Toledo men have been charged with obstruction of justice, but no murder charges have been filed.
The complex has been plagued by violence in recent years, but the Reading Room is one of the social services offered to assist residents. Moody Manor is owned by Moody Manor LLC, which is owned by Mareda Inc., a nonprofit closely affiliated with the Diocese of Toledo. It is managed by Vistula Management Company, which manages a number of low-income housing complexes in Toledo.
Since the August shooting, Vistula plans to upgrade lighting to achieve better images on security cameras, upgrade cameras in coordination with the city and nearby Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center, and hire a security coordinator, said property manager Stephanie Thober.
Volunteer Tami Rehklau talks with children about colors in the Moody Manor Reading Room in central Toledo.
The Reading Room has been up and running since the beginning of the year.
It started with young children ages 3 to 5 to help prepare them for school, but since expanded to include older school-age children as well.
Terrise Pernell, a fifth-grader who was there last week, said she came to get help with homework, and enjoyed passing out snacks to the younger children there.
Morris Jenkins, chairman of the University of Toledo’s department of criminal justice and social work and a professor in criminal justice, is involved with teaching, research, and volunteering at Moody Manor. A majority of residents there “are not involved in violence,” he said.
Ms. Draper, a service coordinator at several Vistula-managed properties, said her primary goal is to introduce young children to reading, but she hopes eventually to be able to take the children on field trips to places such as Fort Meigs or the Toledo Botanical Garden.
She said many people know Moody Manor’s violent reputation, but residents there shouldn’t be stigmatized.
“Our residents are people,” said Ms. Draper. “They are people. We have residents who are trying. We have residents who work. We have residents who go to school. We have residents who work and go to school. A lot of the violence is people coming here who do not live here. I would like for Moody Manor to get away from that stereotype … It is unfortunate that people are judged by where they can afford to live.”
To donate children's books or volunteer in the Reading Room, contact Sandra Draper at 419-724-4205.
Contact Kate Giammarise at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6091or on Twitter @kgiammarise.