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From darkness, light 

A young woman has inspired library programs for the benefit of children

click to enlarge FILE PHOTO
A few weeks ago, I looked out of the office into the childrens’ library to see our Youth Services Coordinator, Margaret Kensinger-Klopfer, introduce herself to a woman who looked very familiar. Curious—OK, nosey—I joined in their conversation. Then it all came back to me: She was “Rita’s Mom.” Rita was a year older than my daughter and they shared the same middle name and birthday. I called them the “Septober girls.” We often laughed because Rita was a voracious reader, while my own daughter would barely look at a book. 

 I loved piling Rita up with books. She would hold them stacked high in straight arms, rest her chin on the top book, and look out from under her red mop of hair to declare this might be enough to get her through the week. She always liked the quirky books I liked, so we were quirky together.

 “What’s she up to these days?” I asked after reminiscing with her mom Cassie. The kids who frequent the library get so busy once they hit their teen years I just don’t see enough of them. “Did she go away to college?”

 “No, Rita was killed in a car accident four years ago,” Cassie replied.  We both stood there, quiet for a moment. What could I say in the face of the unthinkable? All this time I thought she was busy, or I had missed her visits, or anything but that. I expressed my sympathy with a hug and some embarrassment. I had not put it together. The Rita’s Rainbows memorial charity that the library was working with was that Rita, one of “my” library girls.

 Cassie Goehner was at the library to help fund a wealth of hands-on science programs the SLO County Library is providing this summer. Her charity, Rita’s Rainbows, is a wonder of charity, generosity, and fortitude.  She has taken the tragedy of her daughter’s death and turned it into something living and wonderful. Rita’s loves and passions are kept alive with her mother’s nonprofit charity, which augments local organizations that promote things Rita loved. 

 Rita was an artist who loved to take classes at the SLO Art Center, so Rita’s Rainbows funds scholarships for children to attend art camp at The SLO Art Center. Rita’s Rainbows has donated cots, blankets, toys, and art supplies for the children living at the Maxine Lewis Memorial Homeless Shelter, because Rita wanted to help all children feel at home and supported creatively. The library partnership with 4-H was able to come about because Rita loved hands-on science and she loved the San Luis Obispo Library.

 This summer, in honor of Rita Goehner and sponsored by Rita’s Rainbows, the SLO County Library System will present a groundbreaking partnership between 4-H and nine different public libraries. These nine SLO County Libraries will be offering hands-on science programs to kids ages 7 to 12. These enriching, fun, exciting science programs will offer kids the chance to create earthquake simulations with real scientists. Rita’s Rainbows will be covering the costs of the programs, so all children will have a chance to take part in these exciting activities. The local 4-H SLO County Scientist group will be donating the expertise and SLO County Libraries will be providing the time and place. These workshops are free of charge, thanks to the generosity of Rita’s Rainbows and 4-H, but will have limited space, so contact libraries ahead of time to sign up.

Kristen Barnhart, is a children’s librarian at the main County library in SLO. Send comments via the editor at


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