American Dream Starts @ your library grant allows CA library to expand ESL classes

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A California library system is providing opportunities for patrons who wish to expand their horizons by learning English.

Through an American Dream Starts @ your library grant awarded by the Dollar General Literacy Foundation to the American Library Association, the Riverside County (Calif.) Library System has been able to expand ESL classes for adult learners.

In this countywide program, volunteers are working with one-on-one tutoring to help individuals learn to read and write.

In the county, which is spread over 7,200 square miles, it is estimated that there are over 50,000 people in Riverside County who are eligible for citizenship. However, there are several barriers in their way. One barrier to citizenship is being able to speak, read and write English in order to take the Citizenship Exam.

This community-based program that changes not only improves students’ lives, but also those of their families.

One of the students, Laura Serrano, a mother of two children whose first language is Spanish, said learning is English is important in order to get a good job.

“This program is very good for me, because it’s free, it’s close to my house, I have very good teachers,” she said.

“I would like that the program continue forever,” said ESL student Modesto Macedo.

“The program has not just made a different in my life, but it’s made a difference in a bunch of my learners’ lives,” said Rolando Olivo, an ESL instructor who has been with the adult literacy program for 12 years.

He said the program allows his students to learn how to speak English in public, which enables them to find jobs. It also helps them gain citizenship, as well as help their children with homework.

It has also enabled the teachers to achieve their dreams.

Melody Earickson, literacy site supervisor at Riverside County, who once taught ESL classes at Long Beach State College, said the library helped her fulfill her dream of once again teaching people to speak English. 

“I feel almost, if I was meant to do anything in this world, it was helping people with learning to speak English.”

She said, “Our big motto is ‘English is easy,’ because, I think, if you can convince a student that it’s not difficult, you have passed the major hurdle.”

She said the grant has made it possible for extra classes serving more people and provided the library with books to serve those students.

Olivo said the classes have had an impact on the library itself, because learners have turned into library users, often coming in on a daily basis. Among other things, they use the computers to look up jobs.

“It’s a pride in ownership for them to have a library card,” he said, adding that without the support of Dollar General and the American Dream Starts @ your library grant, “We wouldn’t have this opportunity to keep on providing as much services as we can in Riverside county.”

For more on the Riverside program, view this video by visiting

The Dollar General Literacy Foundation was established in 1993 by the Dollar General Corporation in honor of the retailer’s co-founder, J.L. Turner, who was functionally illiterate with only a third grade education. He was a farmer’s son who dropped out of school when his father was killed in an accident. With determination and hard work, he began what has now become a successful company. Learn more about the Dollar General Literacy Foundation.