Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Giving Back Susan Mankowski; Strong Background Becomes Boon for Library

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Giving Back Susan Mankowski; Strong Background Becomes Boon for Library

Article excerpt

Byline: Nancy Winckler-Zuniga

When people volunteer, they can change lives - including their own. Each week in Reason, we will highlight a volunteer's story of giving back and how that selfless act was a true revelation. The volunteer project is a collaboration among the Times-Union, the University of North Florida, the United Way of Northeast Florida and HandsOn Jacksonville.

Story hours and homework help are changing at Jacksonville public libraries thanks to the work of Susan Mankowski. An early childhood specialist with the Jacksonville Public Library, Mankowski's work has brought new understanding and access to library resources to hundreds of parents across the city.

"I think the library has been an untapped resource for early learning and early literacy," Mankowski said.

With her strong background in early childhood development and the early childhood community, Mankowski began to train library employees in the needs of young children. She adapted library policies to be more developmentally appropriate - reflective of best practices - and better suited to meet the needs of all children walking through the doors, especially the younger ones.

Mankowski also added an early-childhood resource page to the Jacksonville Public Library webpage, complete with demonstrations of songs and finger plays so parents and children could learn them together.

"I saw the need and started undertaking staff trainings and other trainings,"

she said. "If you're going to invest in anything, you have to know the why behind it. That's why the training is so important."

The impact that Mankowski's work has had on the Jacksonville Public Library system and the early-childhood community is why she is one of two United Way of Northeast Florida Sherwood H. Smith Children's Champion award winners this year.

The awards, which honor longtime United Way philanthropist Sherwood H. Smith, recognize two community individuals annually, one in service and one in advocacy. Mankowski was nominated for and was selected as the winner in the advocacy category. The Sherwood H. Smith Children's Champion awards are made possible by a legacy endowment gift from his son, Sherwood H. Smith Jr. and family.

Mankowski spends hours training community members, teachers and parents in early literacy and early-childhood development.

"I started out in elementary education," Mankowski said. "But as time went on, I gravitated toward younger and younger. If we really want to have an impact, we have to start with the babies."

Mankowski knows first-hand the impact that early intervention can have on a child's progress.

"I used to cut coupons for my mom," Mankowski said. "Years later, she told me that it was because I needed the practice cutting."

Her mom, a special-needs teacher, recognized Mankowski needed the extra practice developing fine motor skills that would help her learn to write and focus and, by giving her something to do that helped her family, it would boost her self-esteem. …

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