Cynthia Kishinchand, A “Social Influencer” Before Her Time
By Jenna Musket
Cynthia Kishinchand in the community meeting room of Falls of Schuylkill Library (May 23, 2023)
Many people in the Falls know Cynthia as the coordinator of East Falls Tree Tenders (EFTT) since 1996. In the past 25 years, EFTT has had a hand in planting about 1,000 trees along 47 thoroughfares as well as at schools and a recreation center. Personally, I am thankful for Cynthia’s efforts in helping my block, the 3400 block of Crawford Street, get 10 of those 1,000 + trees after the towering canopy of trees on the block was declared diseased and subsequently, felled. With a door to door campaign and Cynthia’s help, we were able to get Japanese lilacs and American Cladrastis luteas planted. That was about 20 years ago. Now, when I look out my front door especially at this time of the year, I see the creamy-white flower panicles that are loaded with fragrant pea-like flowers. The incipient labors of tree-tenders, and Cynthia continue to contribute to the everyday livability and sustainability of the neighborhood.
Many people know and appreciate Cynthia for her advocacy work with Tree Tenders, but few know that she was the motivational force in establishing the Friends of Falls of Schuylkill Library (FFSL) in 1987.
Now retired, Cynthia made connections in and through her work at the Central Parkway Library. One of those connections was Faith Zarro who Cynthia worked with at Parkway Central. As Cynthia describes “We became friends right away.” The two remained friends even after Faith left the library, and Cynthia was particularly inspired when Faith started a Friends group at Oak Lane library. “And that was my first introduction to the fact that libraries could have a Friends group. And so that’s how I had the idea for what could be… from her.” After discussing the idea with Faith, Cynthia then went to pitch the idea to the branch librarian. Winston Moody, and she says “it was a positive reception, you know, reaction to it.” And so, she organized a first meeting where seven or eight people met in the community meeting room of Falls of Schuylkill Library. That was 1987, now, here we are in 2023.
Cynthia advocates that “every community should have a library that is welcoming. Well, how do you welcome them, okay, you do it with having a book sale, you do it, these different East Falls Performers concerts, something for children. So, almost for selfish reasons, I want to live where there’s a local library thriving, but the other side of it is for new people moving in” and being able to access free services “and being able to go to free events. And the idea of volunteering well, and as I say this to people, just volunteer for what you can handle. No, maybe you can’t handle the whole book sale, but yes, you can help two hours on a Saturday.”
Her life-long love of libraries, books, and reading was shaped in part by fond memories of sitting on the living room couch with her father on Sunday mornings with him reading her the comics (particularly a comic strip called The Teenie-Weenies), and a mother who walked her to the Raymond Public Library in East Hartford, Connecticut to pick out books. And when Cynthia turned 16, Mrs. Kingston, the Children’s Librarian offered her the job of the “weekly story lady” which she continued on with for five summers. Fast forward to the late 1980s when after forming the Friends of Falls of Schuylkill Library, Cynthia served as Acting Executive Director of Friends of the Free Library of Philadelphia.
As we wrapped up our interview, I asked Cynthia “If there was one word you would associate with the Friends of Falls of Schuylkill library, what would that be? Or would you have any final thoughts or advice for the Friends in 2023, as we move forward into wrapping up the first quarter of this century?” She responded “the very fact of the word ‘friends.’ The library, you know, is a friendly place. And so, that is the first word in the title of the group name, Friends, that to me is the key, the key word. There is no criteria, you don’t have to pass some kind of a test, or be interviewed” to be a Friend. The Friends help create a welcoming library, and a welcoming library creates a sense of a welcoming community.”