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From Seeds to Saplings

May 29, 2008

(Kathryn Pyle was senior representative for Central America/Mexico at the Inter-American Foundation; executive director of the Samuel S. Fels Fund; and co-founder of Delaware Valley Grantmakers. Currently, she is producing a documentary film about the post-conflict period in El Salvador. In the post below, her first for PhilanTopic, she describes how a small donation expanded library services to Latinos in a rural Pennsylvania county.)

Children_with_books_3I spent several teenage summers in the 1960s picking fruit alongside migrant crews from Puerto Rico; my family lived in the fruit growing region north of Gettysburg, in Adams County, Pennsylvania. When the apple harvest was over in the fall, the Puerto Ricans left.

Around 1980, Mexican workers began to make up the crews, and the Mexicans stayed. The population of Adams County is now about five percent Latino; that’s 5,000 people, with several hundred migrant workers temporarily bumping up that number during fruit season.

The county economy is agriculture-based, with 20,000 acres of fruit orchards and several fruit processing plants providing seasonal and year round jobs. Most of the Latino laborers are Mexican; they tend to come from poor rural areas, and have few years of schooling.

I left Adams County many years ago but was aware of the changing demographics. As a grantmaker with experience in rural Mexico, I could imagine the needs in this new community and wondered how the county might assist their educational and cultural integration.

When my parents passed away, my family decided to honor their involvement with the Adams County Library by offering a $5,000 contribution, in 2002, as seed money to determine how the library could best serve the Latino community. The library had a small section of books in Spanish, but agreed they could be doing more. The staff was interested and now had a small pot for research and experimentation.

A librarian was hired to evaluate the programs and materials, consult with local Latino groups, and make recommendations to improve services; her report formed the basis for the library’s current work and their plans for the future.

The most important result was new partnerships with Latino organizations that extend library services and provide outreach paths. The library now has a booth at the annual "Día de los Niños" organized by Generación Diez, which provides services to at-risk youth. Library staff conduct "story hours" throughout the year at the Lincoln Intermediate Unit, which provides supplemental education for children of migrant farm workers and ESL classes for adults. The Latino Services Task Force has helped the library connect with talented youth who might become part time employees; the library has found it can't yet compete for bicultural permanent staff and this would be a good temporary solution.

The library also changed its geographic focus. The central library is in Gettysburg, where Latinos seldom come except for the Sunday mass in Spanish. But there are seven branch libraries located in small towns, four of them in the northern Adams County fruit-growing region where most Latinos live, and there's a bookmobile that goes everywhere else. The library has shifted the materials and programs to where the population lives and the bookmobile now stops regularly at the Migrant Center children's program and carries Spanish literature on its northern Adams County route.

The collection was revised as well. The staff recognized that their "Spanish collection" -- translations of English novels -- didn't appeal to the target users. Now there are more ESL materials, CDs of contemporary Mexican singers, and Spanish-language religious books, popular magazines, and children's books.

Translation of library materials into Spanish seemed like a good idea and was tried, but the brochures were not picked up. Outreach librarian Virginia Green prefers to post the occasional Spanish-language notice of special events at the branch libraries in the local grocery stores catering to Mexican families. The library Web site has a link to ESL classes offered by local service groups and might invest in a Spanish version of their own site in the future. Green is now organizing a library task force on Latino outreach, composed of librarians and community leaders, to set priorities.

In the new Harbaugh-Thomas branch, in Biglerville, the largest branch in northern Adams County, librarian Jessica Laganosky welcomes twenty-five regulars who use the library weekly: the number is growing by word of mouth as kids bring their parents and help them use the computers. Lagonosky attended a Gates Foundation state- wide workshop for librarians on increasing services to Latinos; she came away with lots of ideas. She wants to attract Latino groups to the library'’s meeting spaces and add more bilingual and beginning-level Spanish books.

Five years after the seed money was given, new programs are in place and in the works. Library director Rob Lesher sees it as a process of finding the right partners and investing resources strategically. Still to come: bilingual staff and more programs for adults.

A small, personal seed-grant/donation results in expanded library services to an underserved Latino community. How can other donors and foundations find organizations that can help them nurture and grow a vision? We'd love to hear your thoughts.

-- Kathryn Smith Pyle

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Posted by Michael Seltzer  |   June 11, 2008 at 12:32 PM

Kaye--Thank you for sharing your moving story. We become inspired every time that we learn another story of how individuals can act both locally and internationally and make a difference with a relatively modest amount of funds.


Michael Seltzer

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