By LINDA M. LINONIS
Outfitted in a straw cowboy hat and leather boots, David Van Pelt, 4, took to the saddle with anticipation and a big smile.
That smile never waned as he rode Charlie Brown, a sorrel with a calm demeanor, during pony rides Wednesday at the Girard Free Library.
David’s happy face was among a bevy of smiles displayed by about 150 children, who also mounted up on Cheyenne, a strawberry roan. David was there with his parents, Kathy and Ron Van Pelt of Girard. She said the family is moving to Oklahoma to be with family, and David has horses on his mind.
“I love horses,” he said, noting he hopes one day to have one of his own.
The pony rides were part of the summer reading program for children at the library. Rose Ann Hubert, library director, said the special event was made possible by library patron Drew Aurillio, a retired firefighter in the city. North Avenue adjacent to the library at 105 E. Prospect St. was blocked off for the rides given by PonyTails of Canfield.
Hubert noted that Friends of the Library has sponsored activities for the summer reading program but is stretched because of budget cuts. She’s thankful patrons such as Aurillio have stepped in to help.
Before and after the pony rides, children in the program are eager to read horse tales, Hubert said. She said the summer reading goal is 4,000 books, and the children are halfway there.
An average of 125 children spend Wednesdays participating in “Make a Splash — Read,” though the participation ranges from 100 to 180 children.
“For every five books they read, they get a sticker,” Hubert said.
The reading program began June 16 and will culminate at an ice-cream social with awards at 6:30 p.m. July 28. A representative of the Akron Zoo will visit at 11 a.m. Friday, and children will have the chance to pet various animals.
“The program is all about keeping the children reading throughout the summer,” Hubert said. “That’s the essence.”
Maria Selak, children’s librarian, said, “They’re not in school, but they need something to keep their minds occupied.”
Jim Rice of Girard brought his 5-year-old niece Sidnee Rice for a pony ride. “I love ponies,” Sidnee said.
Her uncle said the event was something fun to do, and he described the library as a “good community resource.”
Colleen Scott of Girard came with her daughter, Lily, 4, and niece and nephew, 8-year-old Caroline and 5-year-old Joey Criscione, and her father, Ron Britt, also of Girard. Caroline has read some 50 books, and Joey has had 35 books read to him.
“[But] the pony rides were all they talked about,” Scott said.
“This is a good program to help keep their minds active,” Britt said. “It’s better than having them sit in front of the TV all day.”
Britt described the reading program as a “good experience” for his grandchildren.
The Girard Fire Department blocked the street with one of its trucks, which firefighter Bryan Iceman said kids used as a “jungle gym.” He said the fire department participates in the event annually.
Hubert said Girard’s is one of seven independent libraries in Trumbull County, and all have had their operating budgets cut by the state. When Hubert became director nine years ago, the budget was a little more than $1 million; in 2010, it is $612,000.
“It will be slashed further in 2011,” she said.
Funding cuts mean curtailment of programs and library services. She said there will be a 1.5-mill levy on the ballot in November.
“We’ve never had a bond issue or levy. This is the first time,” Hubert said. “Libraries have never been needed so much and seen funding cut so much.”