Project Literacy

Three adults dressed in black graduation caps and gowns prepare to move their tassles. A Latina woman gazes directly into camera, standing next to a White woman and an older Black man.
Project Literacy Graduation 2018 held at HCLS Miller Branch.

by Ben H.

I work at HCLS Project Literacy. Project Literacy provides Howard County residents from around the globe with the opportunity to practice the thing that they all have in common: English.  

Project Literacy unites people. 

My average workday might involve teaching an English conversation class, managing our program data, helping organize new classes, brainstorming with our awesome staff, (writing a book review for the library’s underrated blog), and sending hundreds of emails.  

Conversation classes always include a lot of laughs, serious talk about cultural differences (especially at the workplace), vocabulary review, and a ton of learning and sharing. 

Tracking, entering, and analyzing data isn’t as bad as it sounds. Now that we work from home, I can enter data with my music of choice and my 15-month-old daughter tottering and warbling behind me. I’ve worked at Project Literacy for four years as the assistant manager and manager of information systems. 

I love it. 

You might cynically think, “he has to write that because this is a library blog,” but you should just trust me when I say I love my job (I am under no duress as I sit here on my couch).  

What does Project Literacy do?  

For starters, we offer one-on-one tutorial sessions for anyone interested in learning English, studying for citizenship, or studying for a high school diploma. We’ve offered tutorial sessions for more than 30 years. During the past 20 years, we’ve used funding from grants to expand our programing. 

Project Literacy now offers four semesters of classes each year. With 30+ classes to choose from, there is something for every step of your English-learning journey. Beginning level ESL classes might focus on numbers, days of the week, or common phrases. While advanced ESL offerings include classes on essay writing, pronunciation, literature, and work communication skills. 

As of this fiscal year, Project Literacy is now a proud home of the National External Diploma Program (NEDP). Through the NEDP, clients who have not received a U.S. high school diploma can earn one. It is a self-paced program that someone can do almost entirely online. We help them study for the entrance tests and coach them through the modules.  

Career Pathways for Skilled Immigrants is another grant-funded program that Project Literacy has recently developed. It exists to help skilled immigrants obtain employment in their field of expertise. The program is highly individualized and tailored to fit each participant’s needs.  

Project Literacy has a core of about 20-30 paid teachers and staff. In a normal year, Project Literacy is lucky enough to have about 40-50 volunteers, but the pandemic significantly reduced our volunteer base. We look forward to welcoming our volunteers back when things return to something like normal. 

350-450 students pass through our doors every year. We currently have around 40 students in our NEDP program, 40 students in our skilled immigrant program, and about 220 in our ESL program. Participants come from the United States and about 50 other countries.  

Every person has a unique story, and it is my great privilege to assist them in one phase of their journey. 

Project Literacy is an international community of learners and full of very cool people. Emma Ostendorp is one of the coolest. She is the program administrator and responsible for making Project Literacy the thriving community it is. She’s also a great boss (still under no duress).  

If I’ve convinced you to become a part of Project Literacy, fantastic! 

Project Literacy always needs volunteers and always wants students. If you would like to become either, please email prolit@hclibrary.org.  

Thank you for your time.  

Ben Hamilton works at Project Literacy, Howard County Library’s adult basic education initiative, based at HCLS Central Branch. He loves reading, writing, walking, and talking (all the basics).

Namaste, Howard County

A group of people in winter coats and masks stand in front of a white pop-up tent, from which hangs a red banner that read Indian Cultural Association.

by Rohini G.

I volunteer with the food pantry run by the Indian Cultural Association (ICA) and I’d like to share a little bit of what I see in the parking lot at HCLS Miller Branch. Just the other day while we were unloading boxes, a lady walked up to me. She had come to pick up books at the library and was curious about the long line of cars. When I told her about the boxes of food – milk, eggs, meat, fresh produce, that ICA was prepping to deliver, she quickly got into the line. After about five minutes she beckoned me to her car, and her mother, or mother-in-law, and her young son were with her. She asked how much she’d have to pay for the food, and I told her – it’s free. She looked away and mumbled something that I didn’t quite understand. I said, “Excuse me?” She looked up and said that her family hadn’t had a proper meal in three days. That look of desperation in her eyes is imprinted on my brain. 

That is why cars start lining up hours in advance of the start time even in bitter cold. When the food distribution starts, the cars flow through non-stop and all four loading stations are constantly busy. The folks in that line represent a wide diversity – from older couples to families with kids in car seats. In that parking lot we see all the shades of skin color – both in the cars collecting food as well as among the volunteers loading the boxes into the cars. More than 350 volunteers help ICA distribute the food. The way ICA is bringing the community together gives me a lot of hope for our future.  

The Indian Cultural Association’s mission is to introduce and enhance the vibrant culture and heritage of India through various programs. A fledgling organization, it was incorporated in 2018 by Sanjay and Niti Srivastava. ICA has been working to help put food on the table of families in our community and alleviate hunger among so many affected by the pandemic. Niti shares some surprising statistics, “Nearly 28% of Howard Countians are food insecure, meaning they are not certain about where their next meal will come from or they will be making a choice between paying essential bills or buying food for their families. 1 in 4 children and 1 in 6 adults are food insecure. You will be surprised to learn that these are 2018 figures”.  

Inspired by the core philosophy of Seva, or selfless service to those in need, ICA has distributed more than 1,600,000 pounds to date (and counting) of food to more than 100,000 hungry families. ICA has distributed more food to Howard County residents than the Howard Food Bank during the pandemic.  

The food pantry by The Indian Cultural Association. 

Working in tandem with community organizations, Howard County Library System has been tirelessly engaged in supporting and assisting our customers and our community through this troubling year. These efforts have included lending Chromebooks and hotspots to enhance digital learning as well as supporting food pantries to address food insecurity among Howard County households. One of our most valuable partners in this effort at mitigating hunger has been The Indian Cultural Association (ICA) of Howard County. 

Rohini is the Adult Curriculum Specialist with HCLS. She loves literature and rainy days.

Voting Matters

by Emily T.

Election Day is fast approaching! 

Are you one of the 46,120 Howard County voters who have already requested their mail-in ballot?1 Because of the pandemic, all Marylanders have more options for how to vote to make the process safer and easier, but election deadlines are hard and fast. So, choose your path early and make sure you have time for the plan that’s best for you.

To help you plan, we’re introducing our new online HCLS Voter Smarts Guide 2020. It’s a comprehensive, nonpartisan collection of resources tailored to our Howard County community.

Use our guide to take the first critical step – make sure you are registered to vote by October 13.

Next comes the Choose Your Own Adventure part. To vote, you have several options:  

1) Mail in a mail-in ballot.

2) Drop off a mail-in ballot at a county drop box,

3) Vote early in person at any Early Voting Center in your county.

4) Vote in person on Election Day at any Voting Center in your county.

Due to the pandemic, all Maryland voters are encouraged to use mail-in ballots, but they WILL NOT be sent out automatically. Go to our guide (linked above) to request your mail-in ballot by the October 20 deadline. Then, return your signed ballot ASAP, no need to wait for election day. 

If, on the other (sanitized) hand, you choose to vote at an in-person Voting Center, check out our COVID-19 section for the CDC Recommendations for voters. We also have Voting Tips & Accessibility information with FAQ for before, during, and after you vote.  

Beyond logistics, maybe you’re looking for reliable information about all the issues at stake this election. Fortunately, the HCLS Voter Smarts Guide 2020 also connects you to trustworthy fact-checking websites and Informed Voter Resources & Guides with nonpartisan, well researched databases that lay out candidates’ positions and the pros/cons of any issue. 

Some things have to be different for the 2020 election. But one thing is downright fundamental as always – your vote matters. So, get out there – or stay in – and vote! 

Emily is a Children’s Instructor & Research Specialist at HCLS Elkridge Branch. She’ll be making “I Voted” s’mores with her kids to celebrate dropping off her mail-in ballot. 

Libraries Stand Against Racism

Black box with white text that reads, Libraries Stand Against Racism atop red text that reads, Anywhere. Anytime.

My heart aches at the cruel and inhumane acts routinely inflicted upon my Black brothers and sisters and all people of color. Tears stream from my eyes because statements like this continue to be issued in the aftermath of senseless killings like those of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. I wail as committees are formed to check the box so we can bird watch in public parks and not endure what Christian Cooper endured. My gut wrenches because conversations must held to see that our children have the protections denied Aiyana Jones at seven years of age. My soul is in a state of unrest to see people of all races and ethnicities in harm’s way and being harmed as they peacefully protest in support of respect, equal justice and equal treatment for all. The statements, committees and conversations should and must continue, but we must also move past them, standing against racism and hatred each time it is in our midst, and strategizing and enacting change until America’s promises ring true for all citizens.  

Learning of one another, our shared history, and the peaceful steps we can all take is essential to reaching this goal. In line with its mission of high-quality education for all, Howard County Library System (HCLS) dove into the topics of systemic racism with the Undesign the Redline exhibit and Color of Law author Richard Rothstein event (in person and on our HiJinx podcast), and racial justice with Waking Up White author Debby Irving and educator Lisa Gray. HCLS condemns racism, hatred and violence. Today, HCLS invites you to join us in committing to and engaging in an educational pursuit for justice. 

Public libraries across the country have the responsibility to advance social equity. HCLS stands united with the Urban Libraries Council and the American Library Association in condemning racist incidents and behavior that targets individuals and communities. 

HCLS is one of more than 160 North American public library systems that have shown their strong commitment to ending structural racism by signing ULC’s Statement on Race and Social Equity, which asserts that “libraries can help achieve true and sustained equity through an intentional, systemic and transformative library-community partnership.”  

The American Library Association unequivocally condemns racism and endorses recent statements by the Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association and the Black Caucus of the American Library Association

Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town and Nobel Peace Laureate once said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” 

I implore you not to be neutral. The cost for neutrality is simply too high. It’s incalculable. I invite you to take the deep pain felt in our community and use it to fuel positive change. Peacefully learn, grow, share, support and act. Our talented team will continue to add to the list of materials below and on our website curated for all ages in various formats. Read. Watch. Listen. Share. Act.  

Sincerely, 

Tonya Aikens 
President and CEO 
Howard County Library System 

Read 

Anti-racist books 

Anti-racist reading list from Ibram X. Kendi  

Social Justice Books – Young Adult Fiction 

20 Social Justice Books for Young Adults and Middle Grades 

31 Children’s books to support conversations on race, racism and resistance 

Watch 

https://www.kanopy.com/category/29286

Learn 

What White People Can Do for Racial Justice 

HOUSING 

Listen 

Howard County Library System’s HiJinx podcast, Episode 19: Seeing Red, focused on the Undesign the Redline exhibit. This episode featured Richard Rothstein, author of The Color of Law, a forgotten history of how our government segregated America, and Braden Crooks, co-founder and partner of Designing the We which created Undesign the Redline. Tune in here via SoundCloud or listen on iTunes

How Racist Property Laws Formed The Neighborhoods We Live In Today on The Kojo Nnamdi Show. Listen

Watch 

Designing the WE co-founder April De Simone gives a tour of Undesign the Redline in Washington, DC. Watch