Lewis ’00 Celebrates 5 Years of Finger Lakes Toy Library – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Lewis ’00 Celebrates 5 Years of Finger Lakes Toy Library

The Finger Lakes Toy Library, founded by Debra Lewis ’00, celebrates is fifth anniversary this month.

Like toys, “joy is meant to be shared,” says Debra Eileen Lewis ’00, Founding Board President of the Finger Lakes Toy Library (FLTL).

On Saturday, June 25, the FLTL will celebrate five years of sharing joy with children and families of Ithaca, N.Y., and the surrounding region. The anniversary party will include a wide range of activities from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Shops of Ithaca Mall. The event will begin with a storytime with Family Reading Partnership, followed by a performance by Nate the Great at 11 a.m. and a puppet-making workshop with Lily Silly at 1 p.m. The celebration will also include a costume-mask making craft station and party favors, free cake and snacks, and a silent auction. 

“We are thrilled to be celebrating so much success on our fifth anniversary after six-and-a-half years of hard work growing this important community resource for our area children and their families,” says Lewis. “Watching the community rally around the toy library over these years has been incredibly inspiring. At the risk of being cliche, it really does take a village, and by supporting the toy library our ‘village’ has said loud and clear that children matter. That play matters.” 

The Finger Lakes Toy Library is an independently operated 501(c)(3) community toy lending library that opened in 2017. Thanks to the generosity of donors, FLTL offers membership using a pay-what-you-can-honestly-afford membership fee system, with no minimum, which makes borrowing toys possible for all area families regardless of ability to pay. 

“When I founded FLTL, I knew that the Finger Lakes region surrounding Ithaca, N.Y. would highly value the presence of a toy library in their community. I knew that it would be celebrated as a way to help support all families within the context of their increasing financial needs as they cared for their children in this sometimes overwhelming world,” Lewis says.

The nonprofit’s mission is to improve quality of life by increasing access to toys, supporting play and encouraging a culture of reuse and sharing. Access to a variety of toys, as the FLTL website notes, can help ensure robust cognitive and emotional development for children, and organizations like FLTL can instill “a deep understanding of sharing culture into children from a young age.”

“Providing toys and opportunities for play for all people regardless of their financial status helps us to bring a more equitable playing field for individuals from the very beginning of their lives, and it shows children that they matter, and that the things that matter to them matter,” Lewis says. “Sharing resources with each other is an important piece to how we all can find ways to both survive and thrive in parenthood, and in life, in these changing times. When children share a collection of toys they learn from a young age that toys are meant for sharing. Joy is meant to be shared.”

Lewis notes the support from community members, who “have risen up to meet the challenge of building this community toy library, of volunteering and donating to help it to survive and thrive and grow. They have proven what we can do if we all work together to make a dream a reality. They have embraced and utilized the toy library and expressed gratitude for its presence. What more could I ask for?”

Looking ahead, she hopes the FLTL grow to serve more children and families and “to continue to champion the importance of play not only for our children, but for us all. Play is a huge part of how all humans celebrate and discover the joy of being alive. I hope the toy library will continue to help us all realize this truth long into the future.”

FLTL is located in The Shops at Ithaca Mall, Space D-07, 40 Catherwood Road in Ithaca.

Lewis holds a B.A. in Arts and Education with a concentration in creative writing and a minor in Religious Studies. She is also a graduate of The Entrepreneurship Network in Rochester, N.Y., where she acquired knowledge that helped her in planning and running the FLTL. She has experience as a children’s creative writing teacher, a self-employed massage therapist and yoga teacher.

The photo above features Founding Board President Debra Lewis ’00 (center) and Co-founder Amber Smith ’02 (far right) at the 2017 ribbon cutting for the Finger Lakes Toy Library in Ithaca.