- The Washington Times - Monday, June 2, 2003

“It’s outrageous that we have to get books and chairs for our kids’ library. I can’t believe how poor these schools are.”

Like many of the guests who attended Wednesday’s fund-raiser at Georgetown’s historic Evermay estate for the J.O. Wilson Elementary School library, Art Buchwald was shocked after reading a “wish list” of items that are desperately needed at the D.C. public school. The lack of books, furniture, carpeting and even sufficient electrical outlets and proper walls is no laughing matter, the celebrated humorist bellowed.

On top of that, the ceiling leaks — which has caused much of the library’s existing collection to suffer damage from rain and melting snow. That’s the least of the problems, though, because so many of the books are already falling apart.

“Some of them are 20, 30 and 40 years old,” said Bitsey Folger, who helped organize the $75-per-person affair with pal Carol Wheeler and other perennially civic-minded committee members (many of whom are active in the Washington Interfaith Network). “How can a child learn anything when the materials — especially the science and geography books — are so outdated?”

Even if there were plenty of new books, no librarian has been on staff to process them for the past year because of budget cuts. There is no way to find out what is in the collection, either, because the card catalog also is outdated and has never been computerized.

“A library with books is wonderful, but that’s not enough,” Cheryl Warley, principal of the school (at 660 K Street NE) told supporters in Evermay’s grand drawing room. “There are no computers at all” for student use, she noted, nor any Internet access for budding surfers of the World Wide Web.

Despite serious talk about the little library’s plight, the event wasn’t all gloom and doom. There were plenty of cocktails and hors d’oeuvres to go around and, a bit later in the orangery, readings of children’s books by Alma Powell and author Susan Shreve, as well as Mr. Buchwald’s humorous recollections of the unforgettable Sgt. Bernardi, a no-nonsense drill instructor from his GI days.

John Firestone, DonaldandSusan Rappaport, JoanandDavid Challinor, Kay Kendall, Willee Lewis, Carolyn Peachey and former White House curatorBetty Monkman were among those taking advantage of the rare opportunity to wander (courtesy of owner Harry Belin) through the 18,500-square-foot late-Georgian mansion and its 3 acres of gardens and terraces on a rain-free night.

Organizers raised an estimated $30,000 for the cause, not even counting an in-kind gift of computers from MicroStrategies Corp. and a new library architectural plan contributed by interior designerVictor Shargai. It also was announced that Houghton Mifflin had pledged to donate a copy of each children’s book it publishes to the school.

That’s good news for J.O. Wilson Elementary, butit hardly means the committee’s work is done.

“Now we’re going to make it a model for other schools in other neighborhoods,” Mrs. Folger said at evening’s end.

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