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Kathy Swendiman
Kathleen “Kathy” Swendiman

By Claire Horne, UNC Health Foundation

Kathleen “Kathy” Swendiman’s career spanned 40 years in the world’s largest library, the Library of Congress. Now, the library at N.C. Children’s Hospital will forever reflect her love of books and learning through the Kathy’s Korner Library Endowment. Alan Swendiman’s generous gift to honor his late wife will help the library provide more books to children receiving care – and still reading and learning – while hospitalized.

“Kathy loved to read. This gift is a confluence of a love of learning, reading, health and children,” said Swendiman, who worked with UNC Children’s to create the endowment after his wife passed in 2019. “It seemed to me the perfect way of recognizing her contributions and honoring her at the hospital.”

Kathy enjoyed a 40-year career as a legislative attorney in the Congressional Research Service at the Library of Congress, where she researched issues for congressional clients, including in the areas of healthcare and public health law. When Kathy and Alan retired to Chapel Hill, she volunteered with several organizations, including the Wonder Connection program at N.C. Children’s Hospital. Kathy’s photographs for Wonder Connection captured moments of joy in kids’ faces while they participated in science projects.

May 2019 photo taken at N.C. Children's Hospital by Kathy Swendiman
Photo taken by Kathy Swendiman during a 2019 Wonder Connection activity at N.C. Children’s Hospital

As a grandmother, she loved reading and sharing her love of books with her grandchildren and could even manage to hold the attention of her infant grandson with a book. “Kathy spent hours reading to her three young grandchildren and she had a remarkable patience to do so,” said Swendiman.

Swendiman anticipates the impact of the endowment will be two-fold: to bring reading material to children who are hospitalized and to provide resources for the teachers at UNC Hospital School. Located on the seventh floor of the N.C. Children’s Hospital, the library provides books and reading activities to children, young adults and teens in four main locations throughout the Medical Center in Chapel Hill: N.C. Children’s Hospital, N.C. Cancer Hospital, N.C. Neurosciences Hospital and the psychiatric emergency department. The library also is a close partner with UNC Hospital School, whose 17 teachers keep kids connected to learning and classwork during their time at the hospital.

“Sometimes children can leave their hospital rooms and walk down to the school and do activities, and pick their own book out of the library, but often they are not able to leave their rooms,” said Marny Ruben, UNC Hospital School principal. “Our teachers coordinate activities and learning with their school and can teach at the bedside.”

Providing this level of hands-on learning and reading requires a lot of books. And the books distributed at Kathy’s Korner aren’t just in kids’ hands while hospitalized. Every book a child uses and reads will become theirs to keep.

“We used to check out books, but now we’ve gone to single use,” said Ruben. “Every single book that a child touches, they keep forever. Books are a huge need for us that takes a lot of money.”

This year, Ruben’s team has spent more than $10,000 on books, including more than 800 books for teens and young adults and 700 books for younger children. An annual payout from the Kathy’s Korner Library Endowment provides a consistent source of funding so that kids continue to get great books in the library or at their bedside.

“The children love the books,” said Ruben. “We’ve noticed an increase in children in our psychiatric emergency department, but also the children who are patients in our various units, along with the children that come to school in a group from the neurosciences hospital – they are all just voracious readers.”

UNC Hospital School banner showing hospitals and helicopter and text with "School in the hospital is an implicit statement of hope."

Having previously renovated and updated all furniture, including desks and tables that can accommodate wheelchairs, the library is a bright and vibrant space – the kind of place that Kathy might have loved to spend time in. Plans are underway for a “Kathy’s Korner” sign to greet visitors at the library’s entrance. But aside from new signage, funds will go entirely toward meeting the ongoing, huge need for books and other reading materials.

When asked what Kathy would have thought of her new ‘Korner,’ Swendiman said: “She would pause a moment and say, ‘That’s a great idea – I really love that.’ Then she would smile, thinking of the joy that these books will bring to so many children.”

For more information on supporting N.C. Children’s Hospital or library, please contact:

Keela Lyon, Senior Executive Director of Development and Communications
UNC Health Foundation | UNC Children’s
P 919-843-2915 | C 919-928-6435 | keela_lyon@med.unc.edu

Visit unchf.org/kornerlibrary to donate to the Kathy’s Korner Endowment Fund and get more books into the hands and homes of hospitalized kids!

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