Elena Lara of Lakemoor is one busy Lake Countian. She’s been working at the Round Lake Area Public Library for 10 years, the last five as head of outreach services. She volunteers with community organizations, such as the Round Lake Area B.E.S.T. (Bridging Everyone’s Strengths Together) Coalition, where she acts as president and with the WRLR 98.3 radio station where she is a board member. Elena loves her community and never misses an opportunity to talk about programs and events designed to help others.
What do you do at the library?
I serve the community by creating awareness about the library services. Another important thing I have to do is reach out to the community and build community partnerships so that I can link up to additional services and programs that we can bring in for the patrons.
What are some of those community partnerships you have built?
Well, right now we have a partnership with Mano a Mano Family Resource Center and we partner with them to bring health seminars in Spanish to the library, because that’s one of my focuses —outreach to the Hispanic community. So, we bring health seminars and other informational seminars that are important … about what kind of rights they have. We also host some of their classes, too. I just want to mention also that the citizenship program with Mano a Mano we’ve had for about a year and the volunteers that we’ve been able to recruit are fabulous. They’re telling me that they have a 98 percent success rate with the students who take the class and then pass the test and the interview.
There’s Family Bridges which does healthy marriage workshops where kids go into a room to do activities and the parents go to another room to get information on how to communicate better; they bring in a lot of humor, too. They really try to promote family and family time, so afterward they all come together for a meal.
Another one is with the Rosalind Franklin University Health System. A community care connection coach comes once a month and they provide free health screening, like blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes screening, and sometime they do foot screenings as well, for osteoporosis. They recently did a whole program for osteoporosis, where they actually did education about it and did the screenings for those who are at risk. There have also been times when the community care connection coach has sent people to the emergency room because their blood pressure was so high. When that service is available at the library sometimes it’s easier for people to just get their health checked while they’re there instead of going to their doctors.
With the College of Lake County we have the Family Literacy Program, for parents who are learning English, but the unique thing about it is that their children, 6 years and under, can come as well and have learning education for their age level. So, they are getting their pre-literacy education.
We also have a partnership with the Round Lake Area school district called Community Partners in Education and we’ve been assigned to the early education center. They take field trips to the library and we go to their family nights.
What’s do you want people to know about the library?
There are so many things that people don’t know about that we have. We’re more than just books. We do a lot of public events. We have the Museum Adventure Pass and in this economy that’s a really good thing for families. [The Museum Adventure Pass allows participating libraries to give library card holders free admission to 14 unique cultural destinations throughout the Chicago area.]
What do you like best about your job?
Community involvement and knowing that we are changing lives.
What is challenging for you?
Keeping up with the growth of the outreach programs and services, while making sure to reach out to our Spanish-speaking patrons as well as managing my time efficiently. I truly enjoy what I’m doing so everything works out somehow.
What do you do with the Round Lake Area B.E.S.T. Coalition?
It’s a lot of local networking with local agencies, organizations and law-enforcement officials. We talk about our services because we always run across people with different needs and it’s good to know what everyone is doing and can provide. There’s a community empowerment grant program and last year that program won a governor’s hometown award for volunteerism. All the members shared in that accomplishment.
What do you do with WRLR?
I’m a board member and I represent the library. They do a lot of parades and community events and I volunteer my time to talk about the library. I also serve on the committee for Round Lake Hometown Festival in August and the back-to-school festival that B.E.S.T. and Mano a Mano do together in July.
Give us some behind-the-scenes info on something that happens at the library; one thing we wouldn’t know.
We have what we call shelf readers, which are mostly volunteers that are have shelves that they organize, kind of like adopt a highway but they have certain shelves that they keep neat. We also have a team that repairs and cleans videos, CDs and books that don’t come back in the best shape.
What do you consider is one of the library’s treasures?
Well, I think it’s that we have so much that people can use. People can buy stamps, register to vote, get papers notarized; they can learn another language and it’s free. They can get computer instructions, too. Some people get intimidated by group classes so we have individual instructions for people who need computer basics.
A lot of people still don’t know that their library card will give access to most other libraries in Illinois and if you can’t find what you want in the library you can ask for it and we can get it from another library.
People can also do remote printing; that’s new. If you’re working at home and for some reason your printer doesn’t work, you can send it to the library’s printer. Then we hold it for a certain amount of hours.
Do you feel that the library patrons are like a family?
Oh, yes, we see them so much and because it’s a small community we all see each other at the supermarket and everywhere else.
How has the library enriched your life?
Professionally, I’ve gained new skills and experiences. It’s enriched my life personally because there are so many reading materials there. Recently I was moving and I didn’t have a TV and I thought, ‘What am I gonna do now?’ So, I took out an audio book and it was like story time for me. I hadn’t experience that; It was enjoyable to me. I like meeting all the different people. We really are changing lives or making them better. I just helped a woman create a resume for a job fair, she had never done one before and it was a lot of work but you could hear in her voice that she really needed help. A little time had passed and I saw her at the grocery store and she ran up to me and gave me a big hug and told me that she wanted to thank me because she got a job and they complemented her on he resume. I get chills telling you that now. It’s those moments that are so satisfying to me. I mean think of these couples who are now more in love than they were before. (Family Bridges)
What is the last book you read? The Hunger Games.
How can people support the RLAPL?
Sometimes we get people who donate money or subscriptions of magazines. People can donate books, too. We get that a lot. And of course, people can volunteer their time. There’s a lot of volunteer opportunities.