The American Dream Starts @ your library
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Many of the American Dream libraries used grant funding to teach citizenship classes. These partnered with literacy programs, community colleges, refugee agencies, and the US Office for Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Five American Dream libraries hosted naturalization ceremonies and welcomed hundreds of new Americans to their community.
This module includes resources and links to help you make the American Dream a reality in your community.

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In their own words

American Dream libraries from across the United States are developing and implementing programs to engage the English language learners in their communities. Here are some of their stories - in pictures, video, and words.

Dorchester County Library - South Carolina Frank Bruno

Family literacy can changes lives. As a child growing up in the 1950s and 1960s both my parents were born and lived through the Great Depression which was a difficult time. Both dropped out of high school during World War II. My mom at fifteen worked in a bottle factory and my father served in the Navy at seventeen. We lived in a small town like many served by Dollar General stores. My mom stayed at home my dad worked as a trucker driver/heavy equipment operator for a construction company building roads. My dad and mom told us that the only way we would ever get anywhere in life was to get an education. We were very poor but one of the bright spots in our life was that our mother walked us about seven blocks once a week to the local public library where we would get out books. The public library made a difference in our lives as my two sisters and my brother and I read our way through the small Carnegie Library's collections. In school I was not considered for the first five years to be an exceptional student in fact I was considered a problem child having bite the kindergarten teacher on the leg. I usually sat in last seat in the last row as students were tracked back then. In fifth grade though an usual thing happened as they tested every child in the town's reading ability. I scored in the twelfth grade second month and was the second best child in my entire school. I was moved up to the top class and treated differently. The public library and my ability to read changed my life. It even changed the life of my mother who checked out a GED book and took the test and passed it.

Today I have a doctorate degree and two master degrees as well as a bachelor's degree and run a county library with two branches and a bookmobile. I owe it all to a little library that provided me the books that made it possible for me to read. The community that I work in is much like the one in which I grew up, there are many high school dropouts and the unemployment rate is nearly 25%. We have a ninety percent school lunch rate and the lower to middle income ratio is 55%. Businesses are drying up and there are not a lot of opportunities for growth. Just like me there are many young people who want to get ahead whose parents are telling them the only way they are going to move up in the world is to learn to read and get an education. The Dorchester County Library's two branches focus on helping parents and children engaging in the reading process. Dollar General's grant makes it possible for us to do a better job and possibly touch the life of a child like myself who can live the American Dream. We commend Dollar General not only for supporting our community through helping our citizens improve their lives through this family literacy grant but that they have stores in small towns and contribute to the ecoonomy as employers and make a difference in helping people get by in their daily lives. Our literacy grant can make a difference in helping people like my mother and me to become more functional and give them an important skill which is to read at a higher level. Dollar General is giving back to the community in many important ways.

Bentonville Public Library - Bentonville, Arkansas Hadi Dudley

In May, Dale Lipschultz and John Amundsen of ALA’s Office for Literacy & Outreach Services visited American Dream libraries in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Bentonville, Arkansas. During the trip, Dale sat down with Hadi Dudley, Director of the Bentonville Public Library, to discuss the American Dream programs underway at BPL, the challenges facing the community,and the naturalization ceremony held in the library earlier that day.

High Plains Library District - Greeley, Colorado Cindy Welsh

My name is Cindy and I’m the Outreach Librarian for the High Plains Library District (HPLD) based in Greeley, Colorado. Due to the need for adult literacy resources among our service population (particularly English language acquisition materials), we applied for and received an American Dream Starts @ your library grant in 2008. HPLD used the funding to donate $300.00 worth of GED, ELA and citizenship materials to each of the eleven Head Start centers in our service area, which is just less than 4000 square miles. Head Start, in addition to housing the new literacy collections placed in specially-marked plastic tubs (purchased at Dollar General), was to provide a designated computer in every center for adult learners to use while their children attended classes. The remaining funds were to be used to host a series of open houses at library facilities and/or Head Start centers to promote usage of the literacy tubs, demonstrate online library resources, and issue library cards to Head Start families and staff. For the most part, things went as planned. We selected, purchased and distributed the physical materials to the centers and were able to train Head Start staff on the online resources at a staff training day. Presentations at parent nights elicited oohs and ahhs from parents and an eagerness to use the literacy tubs. All the same, every project—no matter how well planned—runs into complications and ours was no exception. Our biggest obstacle involved a new filter on Head Start’s computer network (at that time operated by the county) that prevented access to the library’s entire website. Were there other hindrances? Yes. Were they insurmountable? By all means, no. It helped that I was able to glean ideas from other American Dream librarians for work-arounds.

How the American Dream is Starting @ our Library - Courtesy, Tulsa City-County (Okla.) Library

OTulsa City County Photour program provides free and confidential one-on-one tutoring, as well we other learning opportunities such as a book club, computer software and classes, and Conversation Circles. For reasons unbeknownst to us, we tend to attract many very high-level ELLs, such as a recent group of Iranians working on various postgraduate degrees. Just in the last few months, our ELL population has increased from 40% to 47% of our entire student population, nearly catching up with our adult basic literacy learners! Our primary goals for this grant money were to create a simple, user-friendly list of library and community resources for English language learners (ELLs) and to replenish our quickly-dwindling supply of materials for our learners.

Although some people are surprised to learn this, Tulsa has thousands of immigrants who hail from countries all around the world. As a result, there are many programs for ELLs, but it can be difficult for people unfamiliar with the area (and with limited English proficiency) to find the resources they need. As we believe that libraries should provide for the ever changing and growing needs of the community, we wanted our library system to be place in which people can learn about the various resources available for them.

We designed a brochure that includes information about both library and community services. Our library services include our program (The Ruth G. Hardman Adult Literacy Service), Mango and Learn a Test databases, and the Hispanic Resource Center (which is located in another branch.) Community services include both free and fee-based ESL programs, as well as the many services offered by Catholic Charities and the YWCA. Now, instead of having to hunt around for options, people have a list of programs and contact information. We distributed them to our branches; along with them we were able to purchase about eighty copies of a booklet entitled “What Every Immigrant Needs to Know.” This is an informative booklet about various aspects of adjusting to life in the US. It covers topics such as driving, tipping, establishing credit, interacting in social situations, and dozens more.

We have been finding that many of our books just weren’t meeting the needs of our students; as one can imagine, materials geared toward building basic conversational skills just aren’t going to help the young woman who is working on her Ph.D. in electrical engineering at a local university. With this grant, we have been able to purchase intermediate and advanced level materials, such as Face the Issues for those needing speaking/listening help and the Reading Power series for students wanting to build reading skills. We are still searching for more books, and we’re especially in need of a good writing series.

Also through this grant, we’ve been able to purchase eighty Longman Dictionaries of Contemporary English. We’ve been giving these to ESL learners at our student orientation sessions. They are thrilled to receive these user-friendly dictionaries. We also purchased two books: Teaching Adults and PACE Yourself; these are resource books designed to provide tutors with creative, practical ideas and plans for tutoring ELLs. We distributed these at our ESL Tutor Training and at a workshop called “Everything ESL.” Needless to say, tutors were very pleased (and immensely relieved) to have these resources. We are so thankful for this grant; it has helped, and continues to help, dozens of tutors and learners in our program. In a time when most organizations are facing an increase in demand for services but a decrease in money and resources, this has truly enabled us to continue to provide quality programming to meet the needs in our community. We are excited to see what will happen in the future as our program continues to expand and evolve.

American Dream Starts @ your library - Interview @ HPLD

In October 2010, John Amundsen with ALA’s Office for Literacy & Outreach Services visited High Plains Library District in Greeley, Colorado, to discuss plans to hold U.S. Citizenship classes with HPLD’s American Dream Starts @ your library coordinator, Cindy Welsh. Specifically, we talked about the challenges, successes and big-picture goals of providing badly-needed citizenship resources to Greeley’s growing immigrant population.

To mark International Literacy Day, the Berwyn Public Library in Chicago’s Western suburbs held a ceremony to dedicate its new literacy collection. During this ceremony, the Berwyn Public Library renewed its lasting commitment to literacy by honoring retiring District 100 ESL teacher Lucy Barahona, naming its growing literacy collection after her.

This new and valuable community resource was made possible by the efforts of dedicated library professionals and educators in Berwyn, and supported in part by grant from The American Dream Starts @ your library literacy initiative.


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Contact: ALA Office for Literacy & Outreach Services
(800) 545-2433, ext. 4294 | email