Library Volunteer Building a New Community
by Donna Childs
Imagine coming to a country where you don’t know the language, sensibilities, geography, or customs, and deciding to volunteer at the local library. Pretty brave, eh?
Elizabeth Cobos came to the U.S. from Oaxaca, Mexico, eight years ago. She overcame her understandable fear of the unknown, and walked into the St. Johns Library, because she wanted to be a strong role model for her young daughter, Allison, and because of her own desire to learn, to help others, and to be useful.
Elizabeth is a Search Assistant at St. Johns, coming in weekly to look for items on paging lists. Even if she doesn’t know the meaning of all the words in a title, she can match the list with a book on a shelf, and it helps familiarize her with new words. Although everything was strange at first, she has found the work rewarding, and is delighted on the occasions when she has been able to help Spanish-speaking patrons connect with resources at the library. According to one of the librarians, Elizabeth has made helpful suggestions for improving Spanish language services and programs at St. Johns. They value her input, and she is very grateful to the library for giving her this opportunity to feel professional and to help fellow community members.
Anxious to learn English and to be involved in her daughter’s life and the larger community, Elizabeth took a class for mothers and children at her daughter’s nursery school, as well as an ESL class at Portland Community College; she volunteered as an assistant to the teacher at an English-Spanish Head Start program for two years; and she plans to volunteer in her daughter’s kindergarten classroom. And soon, she hopes to begin the Transitions/Transiciones program at Mount Hood Community College, which encourages and prepares students to begin or continue college. (She had three semesters of college in Mexico.) Elizabeth’s ultimate goal is to find a job working with children and/or in a library. This seems like a great fit, given her family and community focus, courage, and determination.
A few facts about Elizabeth
Home library: St. Johns
Currently reading: Elizabeth likes to read picture books with her daughter because the pictures help Elizabeth learn English while helping her daughter learn to read.
Most influential book: El Alquimista (The Alchemist) by Paulo Coelho
Favorite book from childhood: Their family’s favorite childrens’ book is Un Beso en Mi Mano (The Kissing Hand).
Favorite section of the library: Non-fiction self help, or self-esteem, books such as Un Corazon sin Fronteras (A Heart without Borders) by Nick Vujicic
Which do you prefer, E-reader or paper book? Paper. Also, videos of books such as Le Petit Prince help her learn unfamiliar words.
Favorite place to read: In bed with her daughter and her husband, or by herself on the sofa with a candle
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