The residents of Peñitas were once forced to drive at least 30 minutes to libraries in Mission and other surrounding cities to check out books or use computers. But now they have a library they can call their own, complete with books for all ages, thanks to the help of five students from the Student Leadership Program at The University of Texas-Pan American.
When the Peñitas Public Library opened its doors in January 2010, they had approximately 5,000 books, less than the required amount of 7,500 needed to be part of the Hidalgo County Library System (HCLS) and receive state funds. The library was in operation with only city funding , limiting their book collection, programming and research capabilities that would benefit their citizens.
As members of the Student Leadership Program, Omar Araiza, Hector Cortes, George Galindo, Alejandra Ivanez and Jose Martinez partnered with Project Insight Director Dr. Marsha Nelson, who serves as their community mentor.
Project Insight, a nonprofit organization, empowers individuals by promoting physical, mental and emotional well-being through creative healing, educational tools, and research. With the help of Project Insight's Director, these students found a way to help the Peñitas Public Library and its patrons.
"In a community you need a library, it's one of the central points," said Cortes. "We need to keep books alive, everything is being transferred to e-readers. I remember going to the library in high school and picking up a book...it changed my life. One book can make a big difference."
Knowing the importance of libraries and reading, these students began organizing fundraisers and book drives to collect additional books needed to help the Peñitas library. They hosted a book sale at Barnes and Noble where they received book donations and raised more than $1,000 to purchase new books for the library. Nonprofit organizations such as The Salvation Army also recognized the need and donated books they had available. Friends of Nelson - Rich and Lisa Brown from New Jersey -also flew their private plane filled with books down to the Rio Grande Valley.
"It was very exciting to see everybody working with us," said Araiza. "This has been an enriching experience of self-growth. Growing up myself in a low-income area of the Valley and not having our own library until recent years, I never thought I would be involved in a project that would bring such immense progress and joy for an entire community."
The five UTPA leadership students were able to collect a total of 8,000 books, surpassing the amount the library needed. With this large donation, the Peñitas Public Library can now be considered for membership in the HCLS. As a member, they will receive state funds that will allow them to promote, coordinate and provide a wide range of free library services to all residents of Hidalgo County. They will also have opportunities to increase their library budget to hire more staff, and buy more bookshelves, books and computers.
After purchasing books and CD's, the remaining funds raised or donated were used to buy the paint that former Project Insight President Cristela Cano used to create a mural of a playful jungle scene on the wall of the children's reading area.
"I'm very grateful for all their help and donations of books, fundraisers and purchases of books they have made," said Armida Mercado, Peñitas Public Library manager. "This kind of help is essential to Peñitas and the Rio Grande Valley because it helps us grow. By having a local library in Peñitas, it has enhanced the love for reading in our local youth and children."
With more books available close to home, families from Peñitas now gather in the library and read to each other and discuss each story. The library also hosts summer library programs that give children an opportunity to read, enhance their vocabulary and learn new words.
UTPA leadership students, in conjunction with Project Insight, will host a workshop "Getting in Touch with your Emotions," at the Peñitas Public Library Oct. 22 from 2-4 p.m. Dr. Lucia Capacchione, bestselling author and director of the Creative Journal Expressive Arts certification program, and Jessie Allen Cooper, musician and music arranger for Creative Journal Expressive Arts, will lead an afternoon of music, creative drawing and journaling for the community of Peñitas and the Rio Grande Valley.
"There is no doubt that the books and CD's collected for the library will help fight illiteracy in the RGV," said Nelson. "We can't guarantee that the residents of Peñitas will check out a book, however, we know that they have the opportunity to do so now."
For more information on the Student Leadership Program call Dolores Villarreal at (956) 665-2659.
For more information on Project Insight or to donate books, contact Nelson at firstname.lastname@example.org.