Harry Potter Alliance provides community assistance, fan friendship
By Rebecca Berfanger
Whether you’re a wizard, a muggle or perhaps even a hunter of fantastic beasts, if you’re at least 18 years old, Greenwood Burrow of the Harry Potter Alliance welcomes you.
Centered on the enormously popular boy wizard book series by British author J.K. Rowling, the organization’s mission emphasizes using the power of story and pop culture to make activities accessible and sustainable. According to the website, the group aims — through real-life campaigns and public works — “to develop compassionate, skillful leaders who learn to approach our world’s problems with joy, creativity, and commitment to equity.”
The Harry Potter Alliance is an international organization, spanning 35 countries and six continents. The Greenwood Burrow is one of the many autonomous chapters. And regardless of what Hogwarts school “house” you’ll fit into, they welcome you.
“We are all about inclusion and everyone having a voice and being a part of our chapter,” says Burrow member Dannielle Beardsley. “We would love for more people to join and help expand our chapter.”
Wizards of works
The library started the organization a couple of years ago as a way to engage readers who had aged out of programming for teens. It was an opportunity to build a welcoming group and one that channels Potter-fandom into acts of service.
Plus, the library staff already has several Potter fans; the Greenwood Burrow is overseen by Greenwood Public Library reference librarians Josie Hawthorne and Carissa Simpson.
Since its inception, the Burrow has grown into a space for both super fans and the Potter-curious. Simpson says she thinks most of the group’s 50 active members are in their late 20s and 30s.
Hawthorne had a good guess as to why the group appeals to that age range. “For me, I grew up with the Harry Potter books and movies. I remember when the books were being released and going to the midnight [bookstore] parties,” she says. “I had difficulty reading as a kid, so I learned by listening to the cassette tapes and reading along. Harry Potter really sparked reading for me. I’ve heard from a lot of people that when they were young, Harry Potter got them into reading.”
Although she isn’t sure if she still has the cassettes, she does occasionally listen to the audio books on her phone. And because many Harry Potter fans are starting or plan to start families of their own, love of the universe is being shared with the next generation. Simpson discovered the books when she was on maternity leave in her 20s.
“A friend kept saying, ‘You’ve got to read Harry Potter,’” she recalls. Simpson read all seven Harry Potter books during the course of her pregnancy. “It’s just such a good story,” she says. “I think it’ll be one of those classics like ‘The Chronicles of Narnia.’”
Group member Beardsley joined in the summer of 2018 because, she says, she is a “complete Potterhead.”
“I would be in line at Borders at midnight waiting for the book release every time. Same with the movies; I had to be at the first showing,” she says. “I am still as big of a fan as I was then. Now I’m passing on my love to my children.”
Beardsley and her children have read the Harry Potter books together, as well as watched the movies, and have started on the Rowling-penned off-shoot series, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.”
Sorting it out
In addition to sharing in the fandom, the group has provided several opportunities for members, many of them with an emphasis on building or serving the community. For instance, at the “Fantastic Beasts and How to Help Them” event in August, they held a supply drive for the Humane Society of Johnson County. One of the participants was dressed as character Professor Delores Umbridge, known for her pink outfits and love of kittens. Attendees also were able to meet adoptable kittens from the shelter.
The Harry Potter Alliance also offers a mix of craft projects, trivia nights, meet-ups at local breweries and restaurants, and a supply drive for Resources of Hope, an organization that supports foster families. Although group activities stalled in the spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the plans remain intact — just postponed — and include a highway cleanup, a knitting drive and a voter registration initiative.
Group members continued to keep in touch over Facebook and via email updates, Hawthorne says. Facebook group members continued to share articles and were planning a trivia night.
Jimmy Ondecko, a relatively new fan of Harry Potter who joined the group in late 2019, says he was looking forward to another House Cup. During these events, new group members are sorted into the different houses from the book (akin to fraternities or sororities, for the uninitiated), that is Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, Gryffindor and Slytherin.
During regular meetings, the houses compete for points, and the house with the most points wins. This year, the prize for the winning house was going to be the choice of a movie to watch with the rest of the group.
But “getting back together, seeing each other in person” is what Ondecko is really looking forward to with the other members. He also wants to participate in future community service opportunities with the group. “If you care about your community, you give and you receive,” he says. “If you give your time and effort, you receive a community that cares about each other more.” Good works such as highway cleanups, Ondecko notes, add up when everyone does their part.
“It feels nice just to do something and not expect anything in return,” he added. Even when he worked as a software developer, he says, one of the tenets was “to leave things a little better than when you got there.”
For Beardsley, it’s been a fun way to get to know other fans.
“I enjoy knowing that I’m not alone in being an adult who still loves Harry Potter. I love that I can geek out so hard and not be judged,” she says. “I love learning other people’s take on a certain book or movie. I love just immersing myself in the Harry Potter world with other people who have the same appreciation for it.”
To learn more about Harry Potter Alliance Greenwood Burrow, or to join, visit greenwoodlibrary.us/hpalliancerequest.
In response to Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling’s recent statements regarding the transgender community, the Greenwood Burrow of the Harry Potter Alliance issued the following statement: “Greenwood Burrow supports our community of readers and their stories across the gender spectrum. We believe reading allows us to broaden our understanding of the human experience and teaches us empathy to appreciate stories that are not our own. To help share those stories, we have created a booklist of titles featuring trans and non-binary characters.” For the full booklist, visit the group’s public Facebook page.