Since 2016, the Johnson County Library Foundation’s biggest annual event and fundraiser has been “Library Lets Loose,” attracting about 500 people to Central for an evening of games, music, dancing, food and fun. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, it quickly became apparent that such an event couldn’t be held this year. The Foundation briefly considered cancelling, but decided to forge ahead with a virtual event that people can enjoy from home.
“We have found that people want to support the Library and this event is a perfect fit for them,” says Foundation Executive Director Stephanie Stollsteimer. “This year has been so weighted by uncertainty for everyone. If anyone has the capacity to give, we can help them with a way to do that. We want to join everyone to cultivate the community spirit of the Library.”
In the past, participants have bought a $75 ticket. This year’s event will be free, although donations are always welcome and encouraged. Attendees will view a brief presentation, then move to a variety of virtual rooms offering storytelling, trivia, games, musical performances and other entertainment. “We’re hosting interactive activities where people can participate from their home,” Stollsteimer said. “Some of it will be live, some recorded.”
The event also relies on dedicated volunteers. This year the effort is led by honorary hosts Cindy Wallis-Lage and Kent Lage. Stollsteimer praised the hosts, both engineers, for their can-do spirit in the face of the pandemic. In a letter inviting event sponsorships, the hosts urged continued financial support to help sustain Johnson County Library as a vital community resource.
“The current world emergency has highlighted the value of readily available learning resources for our community during a time with so much uncertainty,” they wrote. “As a valued partner in our community, the Library has remained available 24/7 with online resources for education, news, and entertainment.”
Kent Lage is an urban services manager with Johnson County Public Works. Cindy Wallis-Lage is a top executive with Black & Veatch, which is the lead corporate sponsor of Central’s MakerSpace. Both Black & Veatch and MakerSpace epitomize innovation, creativity and productivity — qualities needed now more than ever.
Cindy Wallis-Lage said that growing up in Topeka, she visited the Library every week and it instilled in her a lifelong love of reading. “That was my place to go, all through high school, it was that sanctuary,” she said. As she and her husband raised three children in Johnson County, libraries were a big part of their lives and learning.
She said continuing the Library Lets Loose event this year is worthwhile, “to show how the Library is very agile,” and an important resource for information about different cultures in our world. “We can continue to support the community, whether it’s walking in in person or doing it virtually,” she said.
Additional sponsors are welcome and can contact Stollsteimer at [email protected].
While COVID-19 poses unique challenges, Stollsteimer knows that the Foundation’s supporters, like the Library they love, are resilient and adaptable, and this year’s event will illustrate that. “We are all finding our way together,” she said. “Libraries and communities need each other, and we’ll persevere.”