This month I am honored to put the spotlight on Vanessa Little, a local who has devoted much of her life to the literacy and education of children across the U.S. Vanessa is a resident of Colorado Springs, CO and is a seasoned educator who has dedicated over three decades of her life teaching infants through college-aged individuals in Colorado, Washington DC, Virginia, and Maryland. Equity, inclusion, and creative expression have always been her passions in the classroom.
In 2013 a chronic illness that reduced her ability to teach in the classroom prompted her to brainstorm other ways she could continue her work with children and diverse communities in literacy and the arts. Before relocating to Colorado, Vanessa collaborated with local bookstores, captivating young minds during her Saturday story times. Her talent for engaging with children didn’t go unnoticed, and soon parents began approaching her about storytime events for their birthday parties and play dates. She was so successful with these events that, upon settling in Colorado Springs, she decided to turn her passion for storytime into a full-fledged business.
But Colorado just wasn’t as excited about it as she was. “The arts, specifically story times as a form of entertainment, were not as revered in Colorado Springs as they were on the East Coast. So getting the idea to stick as a business was a challenge.” she says.
That’s when she shifted her focus to donation-run community events. Vanessa became the founder and director of her own grassroots organization to elevate and highlight diverse communities in Colorado Springs. Founded in 2019, Lil’ Miss Story Hour creates advanced representation and inclusivity through children’s literacy and art-focused events. Its mission is to expose children to books written and illustrated by a wide range of individuals, with a focus on those from underrepresented communities… military personnel (specifically women), disabled persons, and members of the LGBTIA+ community.
Vanessa’s aspiration for Lil’ Miss Story Hour is to inspire children from diverse backgrounds to embrace their own narratives and someday write stories that reflect their own true and unique experiences. “I desire to create safe spaces where children from diverse communities, along with their families, can experience, engage with, and be exposed to other individuals who look like them in a variety of roles such as artists, entrepreneurs, scientists, and so many more.”
For work such as this, Lil’ Miss Story Hour has been identified as a “high-impact, intergenerational program… curated in the Colorado Springs community that elevates diverse stories” by the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs MOSAIC LGBTQ+ Resource Center.
When I asked her about the future of Lil’ Miss Story Hour, Vanessa shared her vision of a sustainable budget that would support diverse and inclusive annual events. She emphasized the importance of compensating the artists and guests who so generously contribute their talents and aims to foster an environment where creativity thrives and the artistic community is valued.
Some of Lil’ Miss Story Hour’s annual events include:
- Black History Month Storytime
- Black Vendor Market
- Women’s History Month S.T.E.A.M. Storytime
- Poetry & Jazz Appreciation Month Storytime
- AANHPI (Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander) Storytime & Vendor Market
- Black Music Month Storytime
- Back-to-School Culture Fest
- Latin Heritage
- Non-Binary Storytime
- Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) Storytime
- Winter-themed Storytime featuring Black Santa
Vanessa uses her organization to create a series of engaging and lively FUNraisers twice a year, in April and October. During the spring months, attendees can look forward to Drag FUNraiser & Storytime, skating FUNraisers, scavenger hunts and more. In the fall, she will be hosting a FUNraiser concert with a host of local artists from Pueblo, Colorado Springs, and Denver.
In addition to its bi-annual FUNraisers, Lil’ Miss Story Hour benefits from a fiscal sponsorship provided by Knob Hill Urban Arts District. This partnership plays a vital role by providing access to grant funds, enabling Vanessa to sustain and grow her organization and its impact on our community.
In the spirit of community support, Lil’ Miss Story Hour ensures that portions of the donations received for specific events are shared with organizations that contribute to the event’s focus. For instance, some donations for the AANHPI are allocated to the Lotus Foundation and the Filipino American Community of Southern Colorado (FACSC.) Similarly, donations received during the Latin & Non-binary Storytime are directed to support Inside Out Youth Services and Chicano Foundations in Pueblo, Colorado. This is one way that Lil’ Miss Story Hour fosters a network of support in the community it serves.
All of us at Photography by Krisleen see Lil’ Miss Story Hour as a beacon of representation and inclusivity in the Colorado Springs area and we encourage you to participate in this championing organization. For a list of upcoming events, storytimes and opportunities to donate, visit www.lilmissstoryhour.com.