American Dream recipient, Greenwood County Library System, is anything but run of the mill

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Greenwood County, South Carolina’s roots date back to the late 1800s, when it established its blue-collar identity. When Greenwood County Library System Director Prudence Taylor arrived at the library in 1997, the unemployment rate was 4 percent. But that changed when the mills, which had been sustaining the community, closed after 2000.  As a result, at one point, unemployment was as high as 11 percent.

“People had planned to work for the mills all their lives, as their fathers and grandfathers had done,” said Taylor.

The population also changed, as more Latino residents moved in to work at the meat packing plant. When a newspaper article brought attention to the growing need of these new residents, the library began moving toward beefing up its bilingual and ESL collections to serve this burgeoning population.

A small county, Greenwood serves a population of 70,000. Its fastest growing sector of the population is Latino. According to the 2010 census, 6.5 percent of its population speaks a language other than English at home.  

The grant has enabled the library to buy computers that are used in the classes, as well as the Mango languages program. Literacy Coordinator Lois Strauss said it helps to have the computers, because when instructors are stuck on a phrase, they can use Google Translate. People also take laptops into the soundproofed rooms to use Mango.

Yuki Kato, who is from Japan, said her American Dream is for her daughter to go to college in the United States and ultimately give back to the community and help people in the United States and Japan better understand each other.

Kato started with the program from its inception and participates in both one-on-one sessions and group conversation sessions. Of the latter, she said it provides a comfortable environment.

“It helps me to speak without being afraid of making mistakes, because I know all of the students there are not really native speakers, so I’m not ashamed if I make a mistake in English,” she said.

She said it is also good to know people in the same situation.

She said she sometimes gets discouraged when trying to communicate with a native English speaker for instance, “If I’m talking to a local person, and she says to me, ‘I beg your pardon,’ or, ‘Say it again.’” Kato said can share this experience with others in the class, which “just lights up my life.”

She said her teacher is patient and lets her talk as much as she wants.

“I feel like my teacher has become one of my best friends,” she said. “It helps me a lot.”

Strauss said the library partners with a neighboring Episcopal church, which had been looking for a project that would embrace the local community and focus on younger children.

Since the church was undergoing a renovation, it asked the library if the church could use the library and become a partner.

“We take a child and basically work with them for an hour a week. The same coach is always with the same child,” said Chris Jayne, Volunteer, head of the after-school coaching program for K-5 through the Church of the Resurrection. “We help with their homework, because often the Hispanic family cannot read instruction and, therefore, guide the child.”

Jayne said there are more than 30 children in the program, which is aimed at children in grades K-5. In many cases, the child’s exposure to English is mainly limited to school.

“It’s been a very successful program,” Jayne said.

“Often while the child is downstairs, the adult is upstairs with (another) program,” Strauss said.

For over 100 years, our public libraries have been a foundation of the American Dream, providing equal access to information of all kinds and lifelong learning opportunities to families new to the United States as well as those who have been here for generations. The Dollar General Literacy Foundation is proud to support this proud tradition through supporting The American Dream Starts @ your library® grant initiative.

Each American Dream library is located in a community served by Dollar General Stores, affirming our strong commitment to our customers and their communities.

With this current third round cohort of 44 libraries, this initiative has now served 144 libraries across the country since 2008 to build innovative and effective literacy programs for adult English Language Learners. 

These 44 libraries have built strong community partnerships with over XXX local organizations, agencies, and businesses to reach English language learners and expand services catering to their needs. The American Dream grants helped libraries expand collections, improve technology, and increase public awareness of programs and resources for new Americans.

Dollar General believes learning to read, receiving your GED, or learning the English language is an investment that opens doorways for personal, professional, and economic growth – a tradition that began with our founder, J.L. Turner, who was functionally illiterate with only a third grade education. Since 1993, the Dollar General Literacy foundation has awarded more than $97 million to nonprofit organizations and schools that have helped more than 5.8 million individuals advance their literacy and basic education skills. Literacy is the gift that cannot be taken away, and it lasts a lifetime.

We are very proud of the American Dream libraries for all that they continue to accomplish in their communities and of the people who have participated in these programs.