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The Communicator

Not Your Average Librarian

Community High School media center specialist Jeri Schneider talks activism, veganism and of course, books.

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At a first glance, you can tell Jeri Schneider is not your typical high school librarian.   Her fuchsia-tipped hair, red reading glasses and vibrant smile stand out as soon as you see her. But there is even more to Schneider than what meets the eye. She is a woman of many interests, pursuits and passions. Social activism is one of them.

“Back in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s, I was involved with a group called the Homeless Action Committee,” Schneider said. “They worked around Ann Arbor trying to get more affordable housing to people with low-income. We were initially just trying to raise awareness about the problems of homelessness in Ann Arbor. We were very locally focused.”

The HAC attended meeting after meeting of the city council, begging them to put some of the city’s resources towards solving the problem. Unfortunately, city council would not budge.

“The city kept saying, ‘Well, we know it’s a problem, and we’d like to do something about it, but we don’t have the resources,’” Schneider said. “‘We don’t have any money to spend on housing. It’s a big problem, but it’s too big.’”

As it turns out, the city council had millions of dollars in their budget set aside for a new parking structure. The HAC was incredulous.

“It was basically a lie that they didn’t have the money, it was really a choice they were making,” Schneider said. “It’s just a matter of changing people’s priorities, to say ‘Hey, it’s more important to house people than house cars.’ That actually became our big slogan: ‘House people, not cars.’”

It soon became clear that Ann Arbor citizens agreed. That year, there was a mayoral election. The Republican candidate—who was in favor of the parking structure—lost.

“We kind of took that as a ‘Hey, the people of Ann Arbor have spoken, and they don’t want this structure,’” Schneider said.

The Homeless Action Committee’s work proved effective, raising significant awareness in and around the community and inspiring other organizations to heed their call to action.

“The structure actually wasn’t built, there were a number of people in town who set up non-profit organizations.” Schneider said. “Avalon Housing being the main one, and they were unique in that they got grant funds, federal money, state funds, local city funds and private donations.”

Founded in 1992, Avalon Housing currently works to provide homes for  people who cannot afford to house themselves. Often, these people are homeless or on the verge of becoming  homeless. With a large emphasis on comfortable, affordable living spaces and eviction prevention, Avalon currently houses over 600 people throughout Ann Arbor.

“We still have homelessness, it hasn’t gone away, but people are doing something about it.” Schneider said. “I believe that’s partially a result of the work [the HAC] did. And I was not alone, I mean I was just one in a ton of people. It felt really good to be a part of that movement.”

That sort of activist work within the community is not the only way Schneider makes a difference. For her, changing the world can start with something as simple as her diet.

“I’ve been vegan since 1997, that’s a really big part of my life at this point,” Schneider said. “One of my favorites is, well I call it a cheesy veg dip, it’s so delicious. People who are vegan, people who are die-hard cheese-eaters, they’ll love this stuff.”

 The ingredients include a cashew-cream base, carrots, onions, nutritional yeast, onions, garlic, lemon juice and “a few other things.”

 “It’s super simple to make, delicious and it’s really healthy.” Schneider said. “It doesn’t have all the cholesterol, hormones that you get in dairy cheese and doesn’t have all the animal suffering. It feels good to eat it for a bunch of reasons.”

Schneider teaches vegan cooking classes every other month at the Whole Foods Cranbrook branch on Eisenhower.

“You’ll learn how to make some delicious, simple, healthy vegan dishes, and you get to sample them at the end,” Schneider said. “I always give out recipes, tips, substitutions, techniques, things like that.”

To sign up for a class, she said, call the branch’s service desk or visit their website.

Despite all her unique traits, Schneider does have one passion that fits right into the librarian stereotype: her love of reading.

“I read everyday,” Schneider said. “I don’t always have time to read as much as I want to. I get frustrated, there are so many things I want to read but I just don’t have the time. I’m actually a slow-reader, which is kind of ironic, being a librarian, but I do my best. I read a lot of different things, fiction, nonfiction. I tend to have multiple books going at the same time, I often don’t finish books, I read as much as I can and then I get distracted by something else that’s really good and think I’ll come back to it later and then sometimes don’t. I have piles of library books at home, I have a really huge list of books I’ve checked out, a long list of books I have on hold,” Schneider said.

One of her current favorites? “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson.

“He spoke at the University of Michigan March 7, and was amazing,” Schneider said. “I started reading his book yesterday, before the talk, and I’m going to try to get through that. It’s powerful stuff, he’s having a big impact.”

Schneider is also a strong believer that for those who are more fortunate, having a positive impact on the world is in their job description.

“I believe we all have the ability, and responsibility, especially if we come from privilege, to try and make a difference…” Schneider said. “I loved the Women’s March, that’s the most recent one I’ve gone to. I felt really empowered by that, I know a lot of us were feeling kind of knocked down, pretty defeated after the election. Going to that, being among like-minded people, some getting active really for the first time, some older more seasoned activists, but just everyone coming together and saying ‘We’re not just going to roll-over and take this.’”

A librarian, mother, healthy-eating advocate, bibliophile and activist? Jeri Schneider clearly is not the kind of book that can be judged by its cover.

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Not Your Average Librarian