American Dream Literacy Initiative: Sioux Center Public Library

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Courtesy of ODLOS - the ALA Office of Diversity, Literacy, and Outreach Services

Over the past 20 years, Sioux Center, Iowa has welcomed an influx of immigrants from Central and South America who are drawn to the region’s agricultural opportunities.

But the small, rural town of 7,500 wasn’t equipped to teach ESL courses. The library referred community members to classes at Northwest Iowa Community College, but the college was 30 miles away, with no public transit option, and while residents were interested they often did not complete the registration process.

Librarian Ruth Mahaffy, who speaks Spanish, worked with the college to simplify the registration process, increasing enrollment and convincing the college of the need for satellite courses. The college agreed, and together they partnered to offer ESL courses at Sioux Center Public Library several times a week. The college provides the instructor, while the library provides the space, and, thanks to the American Dream grant, the materials for the courses.

Mahaffy also garnered enough interest in the Spanish GED to convince the college to teach those courses at the library, as well. “It has been really exciting seeing people succeed and get their diplomas and find jobs,” she says. “I can go to the bakery in town and see one of our ESL students there working at the cashier and assisting everyone in English.”

The classes and partnership have been so successful that several former students have even gone on to get their associate’s degrees through Northwest Iowa Community College.

“Our missions are, at the heart, the same,” Mahaffy says. “Together we can do more than we can do on our own. We both want to help people increase their literacy and fulfill their dreams. If we can work together and build off each other’s strengths to fill those gaps, and utilize resources and the funding we have, it can be really powerful.”

Libraries play a vital role in American society. They are centers of learning and opportunity that welcome all members of the community to freely explore new possibilities, access educational programming, and enlighten the mind. For many new Americans, the wealth of digital and print information at their local library, coupled with the educational programs that are available, serve as valuable catalysts for the pursuit of their American Dream.That’s why the Dollar General Literacy Foundation is proud to invest in libraries through the American Dream Literacy Initiative. When we first started the American Dream partnership 10 years ago, it started with 44 libraries receiving $5,000 each.

Since 2008, 188 libraries across Dollar General’s market area have received more than $1.5 million to help build innovative and effective literacy programs for adult English-language learners. With these grants, libraries have developed new courses, expanded their print and digital collections, increased access to technology, implemented new strategies for inclusion, and developed sustainable partnerships with organizations across their communities. These enhancements and expansions have resulted in increasing access and opportunities for thousands of individuals across the country.