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Volunteers keep Chandler libraries afloat

Posted by Editor on June 17, 2010

by Edythe Jensen – Aug. 11, 2009 09:54 AM

As government budget cuts forces libraries across the Valley reduce hours and eliminate programs, Chandler’s libraries are doing more with less thanks to growing numbers of volunteers.

Some, like Nancy Garrett, 54, were recently laid off and want “to get out of the house and feel productive.”

She started volunteering at the downtown library last week after her former employer, CMX Engineering, closed its Arizona offices. 

Others, including retired engineer Guru Ganesan, 67, say this is a time in their lives for giving back.

Sharon Flury, 65, is the retired curriculum coordinator for Chandler-Gilbert Community College and says her love of reading led her to the library.

“For so many years I had to dress up for work. It’s nice to be able to come here wearing a T-shirt, jeans and tennis shoes,” she said.

A few see it as a career springboard; Tamera Norwood, 49, recently completed her master’s degree in library science and said she’s hoping the time she spends in Chandler libraries will give her experience for a paying job in the field.

As cities cut staffs to avoid budget deficits, “the urgency is even greater now for new volunteers,” said administrative Librarian Lynne Paulson.

She should know; Paulson is one of more than 60 Chandler employees who accepted early retirement incentives as part of municipal staff and budget cuts; she will leave the post before the end of the year.

Her position and those of two other retiring librarians won’t be filled.

Tara Anglin oversees 275 volunteers as they pitch in with book processing, education programs, drop-in learning laboratories, clerical chores and gift shop duty.

Without them, patrons would have to wait longer for returned books to get back on shelves and many of the special interest programs wouldn’t exist, she said.

Although more are coming from the ranks of the recently unemployed these days, Anglin said the volunteer ranks also include community-conscious teenagers, family groups and fulltime workers whose employers encourage public service.

Intel engineer Kalpesh Shah, 34, was giving his time in the downtown library’s Learning Laboratory on a day off last week; so was Gary Pokres, 53, a Wells Fargo computer programmer.

After group education programs taught by paid staff were cut in this year’s budget, the library volunteers keep tutoring and independent study going so high school dropouts can complete their GEDs and non-English speakers can learn the language. For the fiscal year that ended June 30, they contributed 18,471 hours and saved the city an estimated $379,000 in personnel costs, Anglin said.

Judy Hedding, 54, gives her time at the Learning Laboratoryand spends much of her time helping adults earn their GEDs.

“I have an admiration for anyone who decides they’re going to take on the next phase of the life,” she said; helping them do that “is very rewarding for me.”

But she and others do whatever drop-in patrons require – for free. Hedding said she has helped residents apply for passports, write business letters, find specialty schools and get unemployment benefits.

The lab is open from 2 to 5 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Computers are available but signs remind patrons must use them for “learning.”

When one young man started watching a video, Hedding reminded him of the rules and he left.

Terry Barnes, 77, has been a library volunteer for 15 years and works in the gift shop and on used book sales. Money from the shop and book sales fund library programs. “When I first came to the library I was a snowbird looking for books on the Southwest,” she said.

Now a fulltime Chandler resident, Barnes is one of the library’s longest serving volunteers.


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