Striving to transform tension into moments of compassion, relationship building

Good days, bad days, we all have them. We want you to know that at the library, we’re committed to engaging with you (and each other) in nonjudgmental ways that we hope can transform a stressful moment and build compassionate relationships. In late 2014, close to 100 library staff members first learned about an innovative way to accomplish just that, and continue to practice the approach every day. 

The Wakanheza Project™ developed by St. Paul-Ramsey County Public Health is intended as a preventative method to decrease stress on families and harsh treatment of children in public places. Co-developer Donald Gault shared the project’s six principles with library staff in Oak Park. He also talked about what he’s seen accomplished in his 20+ years of both living and sharing the principles with others in public service roles.

What is Wakanheza?

“Wakanheza (pronounced wah-kahn-jah) literally means ‘sacred being.’ It is the Dakota word for child, reflecting for all of us what children are and should be considered to be,” said Gabrielle Strong, Grotto Foundation Native Language Revitalization Initiative.

Practiced today at public libraries, museums, social service agencies, and hospitals around the United States, the project is aimed at transforming stress and discomfort. It is built around principles that allow people to better connect, including:


Recognizing and suspending judgment of others;


Opening ourselves to all cultures and the opportunity to see beyond differences to share kindness with all people;


Recognizing that many acts of violence arise from a sense of powerlessness, changing our perception of the actions of others at times of high stress;

Empathy and Respect

Embracing our ability to show understanding and offering to help;


Creating environments that enhance people’s sense of being welcomed and cared about;

The Moment

Freeing ourselves to ask what we can do to help now, in this moment.

Learn more about how the library works with community resources to create the best possible experience for all patrons.