Local Athens Library Dreams Big

A shy boy in the first grade scans the shelves at Pinewoods Library before he picks up a weathered copy of “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.” Every day after school, David joins the majority of his neighborhood peers and files into the double wide trailer on lot G-10 that acts as the community’s library.

As the main branch in the Athens Regional Library System, Athens-Clarke County Library opens its newly renovated interior, Pinewoods still operates within its double wide trailer.

Although Pinewoods library is one of the smallest of the 11 branches in Athens Regional Library system, it is constantly busy. Often the library has to turn away children because of lack of space. The library is a resource center for Pinewoods residents, Hispanic immigrants and training center for University of Georgia students. The residing branch manager, Aida Quiñones, dreams of operating Pinewoods with more room.

“We want to offer more programs,” said Quiñones. “Because of the space, we have to say no to so many things and it’s really painful to say no.” A larger Pinewoods Library could offer more children like David exposure to mentoring and a positive learning environment.

From Monday to Thursday from 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., there is a constant flow of children in and out of the library for the after school tutoring program.

“There are always kids here all the way until we close around 8 p.m.,” said Quiñones. Mentors for the after-school program are typically student volunteers from the University of Georgia. The College of Education sends students who are learning to teach Spanish or ESOL.

Sam Elliot, a senior Spanish major at UGA, feels like she can see the impact mentoring makes, but also identifies the problem of space.

“One of the girls I mentor frequents Pinewoods more than she does her seventh grade classroom,” said Elliot. “There are always kids here, but not enough room to accommodate them all.”

Children are not the only target audience Pinewoods offers programs to. Pinewoods Library attracts Hispanic immigrants within the estate of 2,000 residents and the 18,000 in the greater Athens area. It is one of the only libraries partnered with the Mexican Consulate offering, Plaza Comunitaria, or education courses for primary and secondary levels.

“In this neighborhood we have a lot of residents who never went past 3rd grade. And with this program, they have the opportunity to finish their education,” said Quiñones.

The funds for Pinewoods start with grants. Quiñones said Pinewoods just renewed the American Dream grant through Dollar General which pays for necessary resources to run their programs. Quiñones clarified that the grants only pay for teacher materials, or other resources for the classes.

“Salaries and maintenance do not come from grants, that comes from the Athens Regional, the grants are more for programs that we offer,” she said.

Quiñones says the Pinewoods branch, nestled between other mobile homes, is small.  She does not know if the state and local government consider the number of immigrants Pinewoods attracts from outside the Pinewoods estate in the budget drafting. The library already actively serves the people in the immediate Pinewoods community and is drawing more people, especially with programs like Plaza Comuntaria.

“Many come from Jefferson, Thalmann, Stone Mountain, many places,” said Quiñones. “When they originally constructed the budget for Pinewoods I don’t know if they took that into consideration. I think they only planned on the Pinewoods residents.”

Rhiannon Eades, the Public Relations Specialist for ARLS, explained the funding by comparing the library system to the health department.

“It’s kind of like a secondary agency, the county has input in the budget draft as well as the state,” said Eades.

For the sparkling new children’s area and other completed renovations, the Athens-Clarke County Library received two grants, funds from 2004 SPLOST totaling $8 million and $2 million from the state. Information regarding how other branches can expand settles with the state and local government. The plans for renovations on the main branch in ARLS were initiated several years ago. As the Athens-Clarke County Library revealed their expansion in February 2013, Pinewoods continued to provide a learning atmosphere for Hispanic adults, children, and UGA students from a space smaller than an average school classroom.

Pinewoods Library uses what it has to provide skills and qualifications to the Hispanic population. It offers English as a second language and computer classes. It recently started Spanish classes for Americans. Pinewoods wants to expand, but is inhibited by space. Quiñones explains many parents want more books in Spanish about citizenship education. The citizenship test is in English, which many of the adults in Pinewoods do not know. “All we have right now are these cards,” she holds up a blue card the size of a credit card with President Obama’s face beaming from the center.

“We want to do more education classes, but once again space is an issue,” said Quiñones.

Pinewoods’ biggest dream is expansion and the resulting ability to offer more classes, according to Quiñones. As Quiñones is listing the goals for Pinewoods, a mother is tugging a crying little boy out the front door.

“See they don’t want to leave,” said Quiñones with a laugh.