A Pool of Knowledge

How two women transformed a former Albany YMCA into an educational and empowering space for those in need

Roberta Sandler and Mary Partridge-Brown — co-directors of Grassroot Givers, a nonprofit organization supporting underserved communities in the Capital District — are self-proclaimed “queens of recycling and repurposing,” an accurate title considering they transformed a former Albany YMCA lap pool into a Community Store and Book Project. 

The Community Store carries both casual and professional clothing for children and adults, in addition to accessories, housewares, linens, and small toys. Sandler and Partridge-Brown spend a great deal of their time sorting contributions, since the organization prides itself on “giving with dignity;” the two ensure like-new donations are readily available for those in need. 

“Just because the people who come here are poor doesn’t mean that any old thing is good enough for them,” shares Partridge-Brown. “Everybody wants to feel deserving of something nice and something beautiful, so we make sure that the people who come here feel respected. It’s crucial to our mission.”

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Even the Book Project, equipped with bookshelves built into railings and a cozy reading corner where visitors can curl up with their choice book, stocks only gently used items and has provided nearly 95,000 books to individuals, teachers, and other nonprofit organizations throughout the community. 

Aside from the on-site facility, the Book Project also incorporates a free book exchange around the Albany area. With 60 percent of inner-city homes lacking a single piece of literature, these Little Free Libraries have been the most direct way to get books into Albany households. Partridge-Brown is currently in the process of positioning these small wooden boxes in front of 17 area schools, where anyone may take a book or leave one to share. She fills them with a wide range of material a few times each week. 

“We want to encourage the culture of reading, not just for children, but for adults too. Even if you’re not an avid reader, we find that there is an appetite for books if you can spark that initial interest.” 

Grassroot Givers accepts in-kind goods as well as monetary donations. If you would like to donate to their cause, visit www.grassrootgivers.org/donate.

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