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Deisy Barajas & Rhea Triñanes
Jumpstart Volunteer Coordinators
Jumpstart Early Literacy programs have been well established on the CSUN campus for 10 years. Through Jumpstart student volunteers, the program reaches a minimum of 250 preschool children and their families every year.
This year’s volunteer coordinator team, Deisy Barajas and Rhea Triñanes, wanted to extend outreach beyond the schools. With a love of learning in common, Deisy and Rhea looked for volunteer opportunities and discovered a need at the Pacoima Library. The weekly literacy program “Hooray, Library!” was born.
We spent Five Minutes with Deisy and Rhea to learn more about, “Hooray, Library!” and the inspiration behind it.
Q: Is your work with Jumpstart part of your academic program?
Rhea: Jumpstart projects use what we’re learning as students, but we’re employed through Americorps as Volunteer Coordinators serving the Jumpstart Early Literacy Project. This is a 20 hour a week job for us and we work with 48 corps members; some are Child and Adolescent Department student interns and some are community volunteers. We report to the Jumpstart Coordinator, Danielle Watson; and the Project Director, Dr. Joyce Munsch who is a professor in the Department of Child and Adolescent Development at CSUN.
Q: What are your majors?
Rhea: I’m junior in Child and Adolescent Development...
Deisy: …And I’m a senior, Political Science.
Q: What led each of you to Jumpstart?
Deisy: In my freshman year I was looking for a way to help children who struggle in school, and I went to a work study fair. That’s where I met Atalaya Sergi, the Jumpstart Regional Manager. She presented the program with so much care and love I walked out of there wanting nothing more than to work for Jumpstart.
Rhea: I want to teach preschool. Even as a young child, my parents always told me that no matter what happens in life, people may even rob me of my possessions, but there is no one in the world that can ever take away my education from me. I just always kept this piece of wisdom to heart and it is one of the reasons why I want to become a teacher.
Q: What was it about early literacy programs that appealed to you?
Rhea: For me it was the chance to start doing the work I want to go into later. Early literacy starts a love of learning. I wanted to study in my major and work with the community as soon as I could.
Deisy: I’ve been with Jumpstart for five years now, as corps member, team leader, and now as a volunteer coordinator. I’m sure if I’d had a program like Jumpstart when I was a kid things would have been a lot better.
In my first school years I was afraid to go to school; I was very shy, timid and insecure. My parents were going through a divorce, my favorite uncle had just passed away, and all I wanted to do was stay home and make sure nothing happened to my mom. I cried a lot and I believed my teachers didn’t understand because they would always call on me when I was crying. My mom found a great private school for me. I changed schools, stopped crying and started to learn. I didn’t know English--at the public schools I was taught in Spanish--so I had to repeat first grade. We weren’t well off, my mom was a single parent with three kids, and most of the other kids at my new school seemed to have more confidence than I did, and since I spoke Spanish at home and English at school it was a confusing time - my insecurity got in the way of learning.
Q: A common appreciation led you to Jumpstart, and you created Hooray, Library! How did you come up with the idea for it?
Rhea: Our CSUN student volunteers come from a variety of majors, but they all share an interest in early literacy. We all want to get children and families reading, but Deisy and I saw a chance to try something a little different and new. So we met last fall semester started talking about projects, and Deisy had strong feelings about a particular idea.
Deisy: In Jumpstart training we were encouraged to start a readers club. I thought it would be great to get kids together with families for something like a reading club but going further and bring the Jumpstart curriculum in and compress it.
Rhea: We were thinking we could gather at someplace like a Starbucks, but then we thought maybe there wouldn’t be enough room, or maybe they wouldn’t want that big of a crowd showing up…
Deisy: …and then we thought: The library – that would be perfect.
Q: How did you choose the Pacoima Library?
Deisy: I knew there were programs at libraries close to CSUN, where grandparents come in and read to the kids. But I wanted to find a library that really needed a program, so I looked online. Pacoima didn’t have any children’s programs, and we thought that was sad. They did have activities for teenagers, like SAT practice classes, but there was nothing for the little ones.
I spoke to the director of the programs for teens, Jose Galvan and told him what we wanted to do. He got excited about it right away and said, “Set it up!” It might have been easier for us to go closer to campus, but this was where the need was – and it’s really not a very far drive.
Q: How did you get the word out?
Rhea: We made flyers and distributed them in the neighborhood around the library about a week ahead of the event. We took pictures of our favorite books to make a flyer. Incidentally we made the flyer using an app on my iPhone. It was super easy!
Deisy: We left flyers at a family planning center, gave flyers to the library, went to a women’s clinic where they give out WIC. We put up a banner in the clinic, too, so the moms could see it would be something fun for the kids. Since most of the clients are Spanish speakers, we left flyers in English and Spanish.
Q: And how did it go the first day?
Rhea: Personally I wasn’t expecting a lot, I was thinking it’s a Friday, 3:30 – 5:30, maybe the families have evening plans, maybe they’re busy, but oh my gosh we went in there and it was like: Wow there are kids in the library! We had about twenty children and their parents or guardians. We also brought snacks - nachos, we always have snacks - and it was such a hit. Even the kids and family who didn’t read with us came in to have nachos. It was a really warm social environment.
The book we read was “Llama Llama Red Pajama” and we read in English and Spanish. After reading, Q and A, and some singing and dancing, we gave them crafting supplies to make their own bedtime story books. A girl, about 11 years old even made herself a notebook for school. They all stayed until the library closed at 5:30. It was amazing.
Deisy: And the next time, the regulars came back, plus more people so now we have about 30 kids and parents, plus volunteers there are about 40 people!
Q: This is directed to preschoolers, but you mentioned older children being there.
Rhea: Yes, the older kids keep coming back too! It’s great because they ask questions and that make the little children less shy about speaking up and getting into the discussion about the book.
Deisy: After the first one starts you can’t stop them! And the older ones realize they are setting an example for the younger ones.
Q: Has the Jumpstart project had an effect on programs at the library?
Rhea: When we started last fall there was no staff doing children’s programs, but coincidentally this year they hired a new children’s librarian, Holly Rutan. She’s really enjoying Hooray, Library! especially because her background is working with older children. We could share ideas about interacting with preschoolers. They like it and we hope they’ll keep it going. We want it to grow beyond Pacoima – to any library that needs this kind of program.
Q: The name is fun – how did you come up with it?
Rhea: We wanted something festive, exciting, but it’s not a festival. It’s more a celebration of literacy and reading, so one day I just came up with Hooray comma library exclamation point.
Deisy: It’s perfect.
Rhea: Deisy and I are such a good team, even though we just started working together it feels like we are accomplishing something not just for the kids and families but for ourselves, we’re impacting a lot of people.
Q: What are your goals after you graduate?
Rhea: My dream is to have my own preschool and do so well that I can create a scholarship program. I started working for Jumpstart for the experience and have become aware of a calling that is helping me make a difference in children's lives. The children have goals and dreams just like me, just like everyone else; they are talented, bright and amazing children and they deserve to have the best of things. I want them to be able to say: I have an education and no one can ever take it away from me!
Deisy: I know I want to empower children to take a hold of their life and not let anybody put them down. They can only do that through knowledge and if they can read, they can grow academically. And they’ll be interested and alert because they’ll have the ability to understand and think about what is happening around them. That tendency for a child to withdraw and zone out--it starts early. I have seen how my own timidity fell away with the power of education and a sense of belonging. I'm still exploring majors, I may move from Poly Sci to Urban Planning, but whatever develops, my work will definitely involve making it easier for children to be enthusiastic about learning and feeling confident about their place in the world.
Deisy graduates in fall 2012 and Rhea graduates in spring 2013. They are developing Hooray, Library! in such a way that others should be able to continue the program.
Read the CSUN Press Release to learn more.