"Something just clicked."

by Sarah Binns

From her youth in Minnesota, Kathy Parkin distinctly remembers the stories that molded her as a lifelong reader: “My favorite childhood books were Beverly Cleary's. Even now I can see myself in the elementary school library, picking up her books. They sparked my love of reading.” Kathy couldn't know that several decades later she'd start post-retirement life in the same city that Oregon-born Cleary once called home: our beloved Portland.

In 2011, after 30 years as a lab technician in Minnesota, Kathy decided she wanted a change. That's when she saw an AARP magazine article describing Portland, Oregon, as a perfect place to retire. “Something just clicked,” she said, when she read about the city. “The very first thing I did when I moved here was get a library card—even before I got a driver's license!” In May 2012, Kathy began her Multnomah County Library volunteer work helping with weeding, traveling to different neighborhood libraries to ferret out damaged, dilapidated and outdated books. “I got around and saw more of Portland,” she explains. “And I love Portland.”

Kathy harnessed this love of Portland to write the short story “Summer of Love,” which is featured in the 2013 book Our Portland Story Volume 2, a compilation of stories about the city. Kathy has also explored calligraphy and collage and has worked in many other volunteer positions, with Store to Door, a grocery shopping service for seniors and people with disabilities, and Friendly House, where Kathy worked with older adults.

In addition to her love of Portland, Kathy is one of those MCL volunteers who has always loved libraries. Between working and raising a family she volunteered for libraries in her native Minnesota. “At one point I worked at one library system and volunteered at another. That's right,” she adds, “I worked in a library and they paid me!” Let the record show that Kathy has lived the dream of many an MCL volunteer, including this one. This doesn't mean she'll stop volunteering for MCL, though: “I'll keep on until I can't,” she says with a smile.


A Few Facts About Kathy

Home library: Central Library for the books but she volunteers at the Northwest Library. “I really like working at the smaller libraries.”

Currently reading: “I like chick lit and I just finished Walking Back to Happiness by Lucy Dillon.” Also reading The Way of the Woods, by Linda Underhill. 

Most influential book: Jane Eyre. “I like books with strong female characters. I always come back to Jane Eyre.”

A book that made you laugh or cry: Lisette's List by Susan Vreeland made me both laugh and cry; a good book about how life is just that so often, sometimes a comedy and sometimes a tragedy.”

Favorite book from childhood: Beverly Cleary's books. “It's also nice to know she has an Oregon connection.” (Cleary's birthday is April 12th and is celebrated by publisher Harper Collins as Drop Everything and Read (DEAR) Day.)

E-reader or paper? Paper

Favorite place to read: "In my recliner."

 

WOWVolunteer Maureen Flynn

by Donna Childs

Most people have heard of Meals on Wheels, for whom volunteers deliver food to people who are homebound, but few know that Multnomah County Library has a program called Words on Wheels, through which volunteers deliver books, food for the mind and soul. One of those volunteers is Maureen Flynn, who brings library materials to two women who can’t get to a library.

Her “fantastic” women live in the same assisted living facility, but have different needs and ways of choosing books. One of them talks with Maureen about the kinds of books she likes—and those she does not—but seldom requests specific titles. Knowing her tastes, Maureen reads reviews and scans library shelves for titles she might like. The other woman does her own research and often gives Maureen lists of specific books she wants to read.  In both cases, Maureen talks with the women about the books and about their own interests and histories, and picks up and returns books to the Hollywood library for them.

Maureen goes to the assisted living facility almost weekly to be sure each woman has a good supply of books. She enjoys getting to know these women and has learned a lot from them.  In return, she is able to enhance their library experience, to pass on what she has learned about using the library.  

In addition to Words on Wheels, Maureen also volunteers at the Hollywood Library. She began four years ago, as an expired holds clerk, pulling and processing books people had requested, but did not ever pick up. She found it a great way to learn about good books and laughed that her pants pockets were usually full of scraps of paper with book titles. Now, she pulls holds on Mondays before the library opens, finding books, CDs and DVDs that patrons have requested. That way, she can search shelves without intruding on other patrons’ browsing.

An inveterate helper, Maureen also volunteers at her church, preferring behind the scenes tasks, such as sacristy and altar guild work.  Her helping has paid off in other ways: a former volunteer job at Providence Medical Center led her to a position there until she retired and began volunteering with the library.


A Few Facts About Maureen

Home library: Hollywood

Currently reading: Maya Lin’s "Boundaries"

Most influential book: Lately, it is "Mycelium Running" by Paul Stamets.

A book that made you laugh or cry: All the PG Wodehouse books

Favorite reading guilty pleasure: Murder mysteries

E-reader or paper? Paper, because it is tactile - it’s a life-long preference.

Favorite place to read: In summer, outside and in winter, indoors by a window

See last month's Volunteer Spotlight.

Training Is Her True CallingVolunteer Andrea Dobson

by Sarah Binns

In a world of constant technology changes and a maze of digital devices, we've all been baffled: Why did my photos disappear? Do I need the latest software update? But really, where are my photos?! For the past ten years Multnomah County Library volunteer Andrea Dobson has heard these kinds of questions on a daily basis in her role as a technology trainer; luckily, she always has the answers.

Based at downtown's Central Library (“My favorite place in the universe,” she says), Andrea teaches technology classes ranging from iPad lessons to resumé workshops, all for free. She also volunteers on Sundays at a new walk-in tech support booth in the Central Library lobby. “There's nothing that people have come in with that we haven't been able to help,” she says. That said, “A lot of [questions] that people have, I'm not familiar with either, but I Google it and we figure it out.” Constantly learning on the job is a perk of Andrea's position.

Teaching others has long been a part of her life. Prior to her volunteer job at the library, Andrea worked as a TriMet bus mechanic for 20 years before moving to its training department, “which was my true calling,” she says. Tri-Met computerized quickly, which led Andrea to learn desktop publishing and other computer skills. Always a book lover, she pursued library volunteering once she retired; ten years ago, she began by staffing computer labs. Andrea sees technology as a critical, though often overlooked, library service: “I think what the library is doing in the technology area is so important. It’s really impossible these days to get a job or really participate in our society in a lot of meaningful ways if you don’t have access to the Internet.”

Andrea also volunteers to support military families through the Red Cross and travels the world over: she's been on 15 adventures, including trips to Turkey, Spain and Iceland. Wherever she goes, though, she knows she'll return to her Central Library spot: “It's one of those places where you feel like nothing bad could ever happen.”  


A Few Facts About Andrea

Home library: Lives halfway between Hollywood and Central, but spends most of her time at Central: “Downtown feels like my neighborhood.”
Currently reading: “I'm always reading three or four things, including a nonfiction book. Right now I'm reading America's Bitter Pill, about how the Affordable Care Act got created.”
Favorite book from childhood: “I read a lot of books later, after high school—Dickens was like that, I read everything by him when I was 30 and I was mad for not paying attention when I was in school.”
A book that made you laugh or cry: “I really loved Kurt Vonnegut and Tom Robbins—his books made me laugh a lot.”
Favorite browsing section of the library: Travel section, history and biography
E-reader or paper? Paper, but an iPad for traveling: “It's nice to get on an airplane without 50 pounds of books on my back.”
Favorite place to read: In bed at night

See last month's Volunteer Spotlight.

Congo Refugee Finds Refuge in North Portland Library

by Donna Childs

First, a bit of background, from Medical Teams International:Picture of Volunteer Elise Ekombele

Congo’s long-standing conflict has been called the world’s deadliest dispute since World War II. Aid organizations estimate that nearly 5.4 million people have died in this decade-long conflict, nearly half of them children. An additional one million people have been displaced by the ongoing violence in the Congo.

One of those displaced by these brutal wars is North Portland Library volunteer Elise Ekombele. Born and raised in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Elise was forced to flee from her home to a Senegalese refugee camp with her son. Through a US refugee resettlement program, they were sent far away to Portland, Oregon, speaking no English and knowing nothing about American culture. Despite the difficulty of learning another language and culture, Elise likes it here because it is so much safer and more peaceful.

As she has learned English, Elise has had several jobs in Portland. A French speaker (the official language of Congo), she first worked at the Portland French School. She has also held positions at various organizations that assist immigrants, such as IRCO and Catholic Charities, and is currently looking for work. Although Elise has made much progress learning English and adapting to her new life in America, she says it is her son who “has become a real American.” He graduated from the University of Montana where he was an accomplished athlete scouted by the NFL.

Elise has been volunteering at North Portland every Thursday for the past year. According to staff, she is very conscientious about her volunteer duties as a Branch Assistant. She also volunteers with her church, helping to distribute food boxes to those in need.

To improve her English, Elise participates weekly in two different language programs at North Portland. The Talk Time program provides an opportunity for non-native speakers from around the world to practice English in an informal, conversational environment. She also participates in l’Echange, a French-English language exchange program for native English speakers who want to practice French and native French speakers who want to practice English. Elise has found a perfect balance of helping the library and benefiting from library services and programs.


A Few Facts About Elise

Home library: North Portland Library

Most influential book: A biography of Angela Davis (title unknown)

Favorite book from childhood: A novel written by a French woman about Chinese women (title unknown)

Favorite section of the library: Biographies and self improvement books, new ideas! 

E-reader or paper? Paper

Favorite place to read: In a chair in the bedroom

See last month's Volunteer Spotlight.

Michael White: Renaissance ManVolunteer Michael White

by Sarah Binns

When bibliophiles crave a story, a library visit often meets that need. What Gresham book-lovers may not know is that some of the best stories at their local library are not contained in a book, but in the experiences of the computer lab volunteer, Michael White.

Michael's path to library volunteering doesn't hew to traditional tales of late-night novel reading or a passion for the library. Raised in Oregon farm country, Michael showed an early gusto for learning. He demonstrated drawing talent before he could talk and was fascinated by computer programming in high school. However, he suspended his education to join the army at 18, followed by the Oregon National Guard. After 25 years away from the Portland area Michael returned but faced homelessness, an experience not uncommon for veterans. (According to the 2013 United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, veterans comprise 11% of the Multnomah County homeless population.) “When I was homeless I used the Gresham Library wi-fi. One day I overheard that the computer lab wasn't available because there was no volunteer. My ears perked up and I said, ‘Well, I can be the volunteer in the computer lab.’” 

Michael initially signed up for weekly two-hour shifts teaching everything from basic computer skills to building resumes. Described by Gresham Library staff as a “computer genius,” Michael developed a following among patrons. “You could say I got a bunch of customers,” he laughs. A recent high point was discovering that a woman he’d helped in her job search for six months had found employment. 

Michael works two jobs while studying for a bachelor's degree in software development through University of Phoenix. He left his volunteer position in October after 210 hours of service. His next adventure leads him back to the library in a different capacity as he plans to read a “marathon” through each of the 120,000 books in the Gresham branch. Michael struck me as a renaissance man - in fact, he is also building his own video game, one he hopes will “bring soul back” to the experience. With his broad interests and skills he is sure to succeed.


A Few Facts About Michael

Home library: Gresham Library

Currently reading: An R.A. Salvatore series; also waiting on the next Game of Thrones installment

Most influential book: George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series. "[Martin] doesn’t focus on how awesome his characters are, he concentrates on their weaknesses and humanity, which makes them more believable.”

Favorite book from childhood: The Horseclans series by Robert Adams 

Favorite section of the library: I’d head to the sci-fi or computer development section.

Favorite place to read: It depends upon what I'm reading. If I'm reading a novel for entertainment, I either lay on the couch or bed. If it's a software manual, I'm usually sitting at my desk with the book propped up…

Favorite video game: Baldur’s Gate or Ultima Online

See last month's Volunteer Spotlight.

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