Courtesy of the American Library Association's Office for Literacy and Outreach Services
Libraries are often the first place new Americans turn to for support, whether to learn English, connect with community services, or to learn about American culture while celebrating their own heritage. American Dream libraries are the new community centers for English language learners, offering not only language instruction but also camaraderie and civic engagement through clubs, events, and services.
The Terrebonne Parish Library System was already offering English language programs when it received its American Dream grant in 2017, but the library wanted to find new ways to connect with the Hispanic population of their “little bayou town” in Louisiana.
The result was Conectando, an umbrella term for courses, story times, and festivals that engaged adult English language learners and celebrated the Hispanic culture of the community.
The most successful programs were Historias para Toda, a twice-monthly bilingual book discussion where participants discussed the works of Gabriel Garcia-Marquez, and Curso Basico de Inglés para Toda la Familia, where students read out loud and role-played to practice their pronunciation. The program also provided a workshop on federal citizenship and immigration services available to community members, which the library called a “monumental success.”
Conectando also provided a way for the library to connect with partner organizations. Local supermarkets, bakeries, and restaurants donated food for a Fiesta de las Americas, and the library teamed up with the Bayou Cane Adult Education Center for the monthly Tiempos de Cuentos, a Spanish story time session for all ages. Programs were attended by both native English speakers and learners who appreciated the events as bridges to engage with each other.
About the American Dream Literacy Initiative:
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.
Like libraries, the Dollar General Literacy Foundation believes that education is the great equalizer, and a strong education begins with the ability to read. Libraries and dedicated librarians play an important role in helping inspire and unleash the gift of lifelong learning. For all the individuals who have benefitted from the libraries and librarians through the American Dream Literacy Initiative, we are truly grateful.
For 25 years, the Dollar General Literacy Foundation has invested in programs that help individuals learn to read, prepare for the high school equivalency test, or learn English. Since its inception, the Foundation has awarded more than $154 million to nonprofit organizations, schools, and libraries that have helped more than 10 million individuals advance their literacy and basic education.
We are honored to partner with the American Library Association to strengthen communities, extend hope, and increase opportunities for others to achieve their American Dream.
“We truly have connected different cultures with this project,” reports Jessi Suire, public relations coordinator. “Being able to develop relationships and feel a sense of inclusion with the more predominant English-speaking world has greatly enhanced the self-esteem of our patrons and has also given them greater opportunities in their lives and careers.”