Interview with Heidi Rhea, Alpha Park Public Library

Interview with Heidi Rhea from Alpha Park Public Library, one of the two winners of the 2022 Stephen T. Riedner Grant for Life Enhancing Library Programs for People Living with Dementia

By Janet Tom, San Francisco Public Library, Reference Librarian, Retired

RUSA was pleased to have a new award in 2022, The Stephen T. Riedner Grant for Life Enhancing Library Programs for People Living with Dementia. Established by his wife, Mary Beth Riedner and her family, this award is given to two libraries to support the creation and development of services and programming to serve those living with dementia.

Alpha Park Public Library

I asked Heidi Rhea, adult services and outreach librarian, to tell me about her community. She said, “The Alpha Park Public Library District is located in Bartonville, Illinois, just outside of Peoria. The District serves a population of over 28,000 people and covers most of southwest Peoria County and portions of Fulton County.” Heidi added, “A lot of our regular patrons are age 50 and above and we feel we have a good idea as to what library services caregivers and/or those being diagnosed with dementia or other brain traumas can use.”

The library originally created a space called the Memory Center, but as they were purchasing items for dementia, they realized patrons were confused between Alzheimer’s and dementia. Heidi said, “We had recently purchased a lot of similar items for autistic patrons and caregivers and found that seniors in our area were also looking for ways to keep their brains healthy as they aged. We thought re-naming the area Brain Center would bring more people in and normalize the talk around all brain health.”

Alpha Park Public Library

Heidi notes that the Brain Center carries books, toys, puzzles, games, magazines and more, all in one location which covers dementia, Alzheimer’s, stroke, brain trauma, autism, aging brains, and caregiving, which allows the library to serve a greater variety of patrons. She said, “We also felt it was important to recognize the Stephen T. Riedner Grant by adding a plaque noting the receipt of the grant and the purpose and story behind it.” 

Heidi says popular items in the Brain Center are puzzles, fidget items, busy blankets, games, books about dementia and caregiving and a pet cat. She said all items (except the pet cat) can be checked out from any library in Illinois.

To train more library staff, Heidi is working with their local Alzheimer’s Association, with special emphasis on how to run a caregiver group. She’s also planning to take several of the Brain Center’s items to the public to let them know about the library’s resources. Heidi said, “So far, the patrons are enjoying having all the items in one spot. And, they are surprised at how much we have! This is now a permanent center in our library and will continue for many years.”

View the Stephen T. Riedner Grant for Life Enhancing Library Programs for People Living with Dementia award page.

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