By JESSICA LARSEN, Brainerd Dispatch
BRAINERD, Minn. (AP) -- It started with a passion for education and children.
Today, it's grown into a library of toys.
Missy's Toy Library opened in March, operating out of the Franklin Arts Center in Brainerd.
The stock of toys was started from the collection of Melissa Gahler, a 32-year-old mom of two from rural Pierz, who died in June 2011, the Brainerd Dispatch reported.
Here's how the library works: A youngster can pick up to two toys and three books to check out at once. Play, read and enjoy for three weeks and return the items for something new. Haven't had your fill? That's OK. Renew the checkout by phone or email.
"I just want to reach more children with toys, good, educational toys," said Cathy Jacobs, who opened and now runs the library.
Jacobs never met Melissa Gahler. Still, she feels like she knows her.
Jacobs met the Gahler family a couple of months after Melissa died. Melissa's husband, Chet, needed a nanny for their two young children.
"I love her children," Jacobs said. "When you take care of two kids with such pain and heartache, it's indescribable."
The library is named for Melissa Gahler, or Missy, who started her collection of educational toys and books in hopes of one day opening a day care.
Her dream was cut short after she was diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma, a rare form of cancer, already in Stage 4.
"Everything changed," Chet Gahler said.
The library, however, helps keeps Melissa's love for children alive, said Melissa's mom, Dede Litke.
"She would have loved the idea. That would have been big thing for her to see this happen," Litke said. "She would just cherish it."
Chet Gahler agreed: "She had a passion for these things. She would have liked (the library)."
As people step inside the toy library, a motion sensor laughing dog acts as an alert to Jacobs that visitors have arrived.
Shoes are left at the door in this play space.
A huge bookshelf towers in the back corner of the room. It holds colorful pages; stories of triumph and happy endings.
Scattered on the floor and in several other nooks throughout the room are puzzles, card games, scooting bikes, giant Legos, dolls and a Mr. Potato Head.
Each holds a valuable lesson, Jacobs said.
The bikes, for example, teach children balance. The dolls, how to care for others. The puzzles, how to think critically.
Six families have started checking out items so far, but Jacobs hopes that number climbs quickly.
Right now the space is shared with her other job -- Kindermusik with Tender Hearts 4Kids. But down the road, Jacobs wants the toy library to take over and fill the walls.
The mission of the library is more than just getting entertainment in the hands of area children. It's about growth.
"A child's job is to play. They learn when they play," Jacobs said. "A variety of toys is important. So they get a toy and get that learning time for three weeks from the toy, and then they can return it and get a new toy. The learning process continues."