John Muir Middle School dedicated Evie’s Escape, a new outdoor lending library for students, in recognition of Evie Swierczynski, a former Muir student who passed away from cancer in 2018. Students, staff, family and friends gathered on Thursday, October 28, to celebrate the new spot for book lovers, created in the style of neighborhood little free libraries, permanently located in the Muir Outdoor Classroom.
The Evelyn Swierczynski Foundation, created to support patients and their caregivers at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, is currently holding its annual book drive through December 5. Swierczynski lost her battle with Acute Myeloid Leukemia on October 30, 2018, just five months after being diagnosed, during her sophomore year at Burbank High School.
“People often talk about how teachers make an impact on individual students. What is less spoken about is how individual students make an impact on teachers or on an entire school community,” said Muir Assistant Principal Wendy Vargas at Thursday’s dedication.
“It has been four years since Evie has walked these halls, usually with her nose in a book, but I remember her like it was yesterday. During her eighth grade year, she made an impact on her classes, her teachers, and her friends. But, with this Lending Library, she will forever make an impact on our entire school community.”
“Evie, only having attended Muir during her eighth-grade year, was a remarkable student that made a name for herself. I would often see Evie during nutrition and lunch. Her height made her a natural standout amongst her peers. She always carried herself with a calm
demeanor, exuberated kindness and always had little smile that formed at the edge of her mouth. She also had a very visible love for reading.”
“This Lending Library will ensure her name will always be spoken and her story will be told,” Vargas also said. “Her name will be spoken in the same halls where she walked with her nose in a book, the same place where she ate lunch, and in the same classrooms where she excelled.”
The creation of Evie’s Escape Lending Library was a group effort, Vargas explained. Evie’s parents – Meredith and Duane Swierczynski, teacher Lynn Rothacher and Muir Principal Greg Miller joined Vargas for the planning, with Mary Brooks initially proposing the idea.
Former Muir student Chloe Bauer hand painted the lending library with scenes and quotes from three of Evie’s favorite books and Chris Amy, husband of a current employee, build the lending library.
“Besides the front of the lending library, the other three sides each depict Evie and her cat, Rocky, in a scene from one of her favorite books,” explained Miller. “Thus, there are scenes from A Wrinkle in Time, Harry Potter, and Me Before You.”
“Evie Swierczynski was an amazing student and person. Evie made her mark at Muir through her kindness and friendliness,” commented Miller. “Everyone that knew Evie was touched by her and remembers her kind spirit.”
“The Lending Library, dedicated in her honor, will carry on her love of reading and give countless future students access to books,” he added. “In addition, the lending library is a work of art… that will add to the beauty of our Outdoor Classroom.”
“The spring after we lost Evie, her John Muir family celebrated her life with a memorial service here on campus,” Evie’s mother Meredith said at the dedication ceremony. “It was wonderful and it was there that we learned about the lending library… then, only a thought. Thanks to the perseverance of Dr. Miller, Ms. Vargas and Mrs. Rothacher, it became a reality – despite the pandemic – and thanks to the help of many.”
“We were asked to speak about Evie, what she means to us, to this school community and what this Lending Library means to us and would mean to Evie,” Swierczynski continued. “Books were always a huge part of our life. Evie and her brother Parker would spend so much time deciding what books they’d take with them when we were going anywhere in the car, even if we were only going to the grocery store. So, when Evie came here to John Muir, she brought her love of books with her.”
“This lending library, being here in the Outdoor Classroom means so much to us,” she said. “This community was important to Evie, and important to our family, and knowing her name will remain on the hearts of John Muir’s community for a long time to come makes our loss a little bit easier to bear.”
Muir students will be able to “take a book, leave a book” and will be allowed to read during lunch in the Muir Outdoor Classroom area, added Vargas. “All of the books that are donated by the Evelyn Swierczynski Foundation will have a sticker in them that say they were donated by the foundation.”
“When Evie was in treatment at CHLA she received a free book from the Literally Healing Book Cart,” Swierczynski also said. “It was something she looked forward to on some of her dark days. Chemotherapy is hard and it’s hard to find something to look forward to when you are as sick as she was, but the book cart – to a girl who LOVED to read – was something that made her smile. We will be forever thankful for the Literally Healing Program.”