Volunteer Spotlight: LCNV Librarians

April 14, 2014 at 2:22 PM | Posted in Volunteers | Comments Off on Volunteer Spotlight: LCNV Librarians
L to R: Fay Menacker, Mary McClelland, Ruba M. Afzal, Julie Bettenberger, Carol Smith

L to R: Fay Menacker, Mary McClelland, Ruba M. Afzal (center, Director of Volunteers), Julie Bettenberg, Carol Smith

Friends Mary McClelland and Fay Menacker are celebrating their first year of service as LCNV volunteer librarians.  They call their weekly volunteer day a “3-L Day: Library, lunch and Literacy Council.”  Mary had learned about the opportunity through the LCNV Newsletter, Literacy Lines. Mary says, “I retired early and it sounded like a great opportunity to fulfill my dream of being in a teaching and reading environment and what better place than the LCNV library.  It’s important to plan your life after retirement, because otherwise, time flies by and you’ll wonder where it’s gone and wish that you had accomplished more.” When she spoke to Ruba Marshood Afzal, Director of Volunteers, Mary says, “Who wouldn’t want to come to volunteer at LCNV after talking to Ruba?  After a few minutes on the phone, it was like I’d known her forever.  Oftentimes, it’s the person answering the phone who can make or break whether a person wants to participate in an organization.  Ruba makes the decision easy.”

Fay’s interest in LCNV’s mission derived in part from her background.  She was a language major with grandparents who immigrated to the U.S. from Eastern Europe in the 1920s and spoke fluent Russian at home.  “My grandparents spoke English but it was heavily accented, so I have first-hand knowledge of the struggles of many of our ESOL learners, and how critical having the opportunity to learn English is to them in terms of having a future for themselves and their families,” said Fay.

Fast forward post-conversation with Ruba, Mary and Fay signed up to train as volunteer librarians.  When they met long-time volunteer librarians, Julie Bettenberg and Carol Smith, Mary said, “Again, it was like old home week, just like finding really good friends.”  Both friends credit the training, generosity and kindness of Julie and Carol as a huge reason for their continuing to volunteer at LCNV.  “The people really need the service that this library provides and everyone is so appreciative of our efforts.  You just don’t get a lot of that in life,” said Mary.

Julie Bettenberg, whose past teaching credentials included certification in school librarianship, has been volunteering with LCNV since 1997, but had a 5-year gap in service when she moved out of the area in 2005; she returned to LCNV in 2010.  She said, “A librarian at a school where I was working first interested me in LCNV as a possible volunteer opportunity.  But, as I became involved, it‘s been the spirit of this wonderful group of people committed to helping adult learners that keeps me coming back.  I know without a doubt that the work that I’m doing to support the mission of the Literacy Council to help adults learn to speak, read and write English is worthwhile and meaningful.”

Among other endeavors during Julie’s 13 years of volunteer service, she and several other volunteers stewarded the library through two moves, when the Council had to relocate during the renovation of the James Lee Community building. At the time of renovation, the library had grown in size from small beginnings in different locations to probably half or more of its present size in holdings; library volunteers had organized the collection under a classification system and established routines for lending materials.  “The shelves that we had were in pitiful condition,” recalled Julie, “but good enough to make library materials accessible.”  Executive Director Patti Donnelly recounted how Julie and several other volunteers packed and moved every single book and all of the resources for the library (not once but twice):  “I had so much to worry about when we relocated LCNV to temporary quarters at Bailey’s Crossroads. Basically, I had just started the job as Executive Director and LCNV had to be completely moved out of James Lee in 26 days.  But when it came to the library, I didn’t have to worry about anything.” Patti also tapped Julie for feedback on the floorplan for the current LCNV library at James Lee Community center.  Julie said, “It was so great to be part of building the LCNV library as you see it today. For Patti to take the time to understand how important a resource it is for our community and to create a home for the library is remarkable.  It’s a specialized collection of instructional materials, that offers resources for adults in the Literacy Council’s Basic and ESOL programs who are working to improve their English language skills. Basic language texts, colorful picture dictionaries with CDs, pronunciation and grammar books, texts focused on workplace skills and study materials to prepare for citizenship are among the library’s most popular items, along with fiction and nonfiction readers written for adults reading at different levels. Tutors and teachers can find materials for their students designed to reinforce or enrich basic instruction, or perhaps provide ideas for alternative approaches.”

Carol Smith started with LCNV as a tutor 25 years ago, before Julie’s time and after working as a foreign language teacher in her other life. She had a long gap in service from 1990 to 2009, when she returned as a volunteer librarian.  She can recall when the tutors had no resources at all, “Basically, you were on your own because there was no library.  Now, I think that putting the contents of the library online in a usable, searchable manner has also been another huge evolution to help our users. I have also seen the evolution of the Northern Virginia community; it’s so much more diverse now.  I recommend so many more neighbors to take English classes through LCNV.”  Carol admires LCNV’s ability to adapt to the needs of its learners over the years and looks forward to the next phase.  Like her colleagues, she keeps coming back because of the warm, welcoming people at LCNV, especially Natalie Espinoza, Executive Assistant.  “Natalie is that first face to greet you at the door or to take your call on the phone.  She will go out of her way to help. She embodies the warm, caring and welcoming aspect of the LCNV community and we’re lucky to have her,” says Carol.

Above all, the importance of LCNV’s mission to serve adult learners keeps the volunteer librarians serving.  LCNV regularly involves the librarians as evaluators for LCNV’s Annual Recognition Event Student Essay Contest.  “Reading those essays,” says Fay, “is incredibly moving.  Hearing first-hand what the adult learners are contending with in their lives as they strive to learn English and empower themselves.” Julie said, “The courage and grit of LCNV’s students is remarkable.”  “I admire them immensely,” said Mary.  A key value at LCNV is to respect one another, especially the learners, which is palpable with this group.

LCNV can’t thank the volunteer librarians enough for their years of extraordinary service.  They have carried on work started by earlier volunteers to develop and maintain an invaluable resource, the LCNV library, for instructors to help courageous learners to empower themselves while weathering life without adequate language and literacy skills.  They have also managed to do it while building lasting friendships in the LCNV community.

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Literacy Council of Northern Virginia
2855 Annandale Road
Falls Church, VA 22042


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