Santiago completes tiny library for Boys & Girls Club

Santiago completes tiny library for Boys & Girls Club

Officially opening his Little Free Library, which is his Eagle Scout project, by cutting the red ribbon is Lonnie Santiago Jr., 18, of Troop 18 in Pawtucket. He presented the finished project at the Boys & Girls Club of Pawtucket last Saturday. (Breeze photos by Kayla Panu)

PAWTUCKET – Having spent much of his childhood at the Boys & Girls Club of Pawtucket, Lonnie Santiago Jr., 18, said he knew he wanted to give back to the club and saw his Eagle Scout project as the perfect way to do that.

Last Saturday, April 24, Santiago unveiled his finished project, a Little Free Library, outside of the club. Santiago built it from scratch, with help from his parents, Lonnie Santiago and Elizabeth Escalira, as well as members from Troop 18 in Pawtucket and some Scout leaders. The library is painted blue and has real shingles on its roof.

“It’s really amazing,” Santiago said about the finished product. “It came out a lot better than I thought it was going to be. I’m just really proud of myself with how far I came and everybody who helped me. It was just a lot of work put into it. It’s amazing to see.”

Santiago likes to read, but said he’s not that big of a reader. He started brainstorming ideas for the project with his mom and said they wanted to give the Boys & Girls Club something brand new but different. After seeing the little cardboard library inside and noticing Little Free Libraries cropping up outdoors around the state, an idea formed.

“It’s really good for the younger kids to have a way to read more than I did growing up,” he said.

The Little Free Library is full of free books that are to be taken out and replaced by another book, or the same book can be returned, just as long as books keep coming in once they are taken. Santiago said he hopes that the tiny library will teach responsibility at a young age. The books contained in it are both bought and donated.

“I hope the kids use it and take the opportunity to get their hands on free books and just explore a lot more and get their reading up,” he said. “I want to help the unfortunate, as books are money, and it’s an opportunity to get your hands on books that are free.”

Santiago also has a second Little Free Library to install down at the club’s second location, Camp Ramsbottom in Rehoboth, Mass.

Santiago, a senior at Tolman High School, said he enjoyed the experience of completing his Eagle Scout project.

“It took a lot of planning,” he told The Breeze. “We had to do fundraising, so I had to organize a fundraiser, which was the dodgeball tournament and a bake sale over here (at the club).”

After that fundraiser, he and his team got a lot of their wood and tools donated by Lowe’s, with much of their money going to books and other materials needed, including for the roof. The library also needs to be registered so it will come up when searching Little Free Library websites.

“It took a little over a year for everything to come together,” said Santiago.

The pandemic affected Santiago’s timeline for the project. He said he organized and did a dodgeball tournament before COVID-19 happened, but everything else was delayed, and with the club closed for a while, there was no need for a library. The club is now open but for a limited number of youth.

Santiago joined the Scouts when he was 6 years old and has been there for each level up to Eagle Scout. Throughout his time in the Scouts, he has been a teacher to younger members as well as a den chief. He said he hopes to continue with the Scouts, but his focus right now is on college. He said he hasn’t decided but is considering Johnson & Wales University and Bryant University.

Last Saturday afternoon, leaders of the Boys & Girls Club were in attendance including CEO James Hoyt Jr. and Athletic Director Lauren Lastrina as well as troop members, members of the club and Santiago’s mom. His Scout leader, Leo Lebeuf, was also there.

After Santiago cut the ribbon to officially open the Little Free Library, club member Noah Jacobs, 7, chose the first book.

“It was really an amazing experience, a lot of learning,” Santiago said. “I overcame a lot during my fundraising because anxiety has been a big part of my life and it’s been hard. But during my fundraiser, I was able to talk to and in front of a lot of people. Just to be able to do everything and organize while fighting through the anxiety to become this finished project.”

The first customer at Santiago’s Little Free Library is Boys & Girls Club of Pawtucket member Noah Jacobs, 7.