Since May of 2018, Union resident John Wiltshire has traveled all the way to the Main Library on Monday evenings to be a Conversation Partner for the Talk Tables program. Talk Tables provide an opportunity for non-native speakers of English to practice speaking and listening in a laid-back, friendly environment, and are just one of the resources Dayton Metro Library offers to new Americans.
John’s weekly Talk Table usually has 1-3 drop-in participants. Most of them learned to read and write English in grade school but need to work on their listening skills, which is why Talk Tables are so valuable. John prefers to facilitate rather than lead the conversation when he can, and conversation topics are open.
“One of the most common topics is food,” he says. Participants also ask him about aspects of American culture that confuse them, such as non-Christians mailing and receiving Christmas cards. He generally tries to steer the conversation away from politics, but he admits, "sometimes, that is impossible." For example, participants recently wanted to discuss firearm laws after the tragic shooting in the nearby Oregon District.
John retired from the WPAFB fire department and was also a part-time Methodist pastor in Union. He is a volunteer GED tutor at the Brunner Literacy Center, and also enjoys gardening. Thanks to Talk Tables, he’s picked up a new hobby.
“When I first started, it took about a month for people to start showing up. I’m set up near the Main Library's genealogy area, so while I was waiting I started looking at all the resources and got interested in genealogy.”
John’s favorite part about being a Talk Table volunteer is meeting new people and learning about their background. Many of the participants are from Mexico; some of the other countries routinely represented are China, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Columbia, and even Madagascar.
“There’s a lot of rhetoric out there,” he says, “but when you sit and talk with people, they’re just like you.”
Jade is an 18-year-old high school student who lives in West Carrollton. Her Chinese-American father grew up in Shanghai, while her mother is white and grew up in the Dayton area. In the fall, Jade begins her senior year at Miami Valley Career Technology Center. Her focus is on computer coding and web application, and she would like to be a computer programmer.
Miami Valley Career Technology Center set a goal for each senior to complete 30 hours of community service, and as of our interview, Jade had already clocked 32 hours! Although she will need to cut back her hours once school starts, she plans on continuing her volunteer work at DML. She chose the Library for her volunteer requirement because she loves to read, she loves to help people, and she loved going to the West Carrollton branch as a kid.
“I always liked to do the Summer Challenge,” she recalls. “It engaged me to read even more!”
Jade volunteers at three of DML’s southern branches. She does Reading Buddies at Kettering-Moraine, Talk Tables at West Carrollton, and is a facilitator/greeter at Wilmington-Stroop. She truly enjoys meeting and helping people. “It’s been a great experience,” she says.
One of Jade’s hobbies is playing guitar. She usually just plays for herself, but on a family road trip to Florida she fortuitously found an audience at a Georgia rest stop. “There was a guitar just sitting there, so I picked it up and started playing The White Stripes. People clapped!”
Jade takes her education seriously. “For me, school comes before anything – except family,” she says. “When I get home from school, I start on homework right away.”
It’s obvious that Jade’s dedication extends beyond her schoolwork, and Dayton Metro Library is lucky to have her!
When 17-year-old Zakiyyah Israfil starting volunteering at the Westwood branch to fulfill a graduation requirement, she had no idea that it would lead to her first job: “I chose it because it was close!” Zakiyyah spent her volunteer hours as a Friends of the Library book sorter for the book sale. “It’s kind of therapeutic,” she says. “I listened to music.” Assistant Branch Manager Camee Decknadel took notice: “Every time I went back there she was working. All volunteers are great, but a young girl with that kind of work ethic is impressive.” Before Zakkiyah completed her volunteer hours, Camee invited her to apply for the Westwood team as a library aide.
Whether checking out books at the library, doing family game night, or going apple picking, Zakkiyah and her family enjoy spending quality time together. She is the middle child of five and has been a Westwood patron most of her life. “We came here with my dad to that section,” she says, pointing to the children’s area. “I really did love coming here.” Zakkiyah is a recent graduate of Thurgood Marshall High School and an incoming freshman at Sinclair Community College, where she will be studying veterinary technology. She says her favorite thing about volunteering has been the people she’s met, who have been welcoming, helpful, and generally awesome. She also likes that sorting books introduced her to interesting media she’d never have looked at otherwise: “Sometimes on break I’d just read a random book to learn things.”
When asked about her hobbies, Zakkiyah responded, “I love to read. I have so many books it’s ridiculous.” She’s not-so-patiently waiting for author Somiya Daud to finish writing the sequel to Mirage, a dystopian young adult novel. She’d never read science fiction before, and picked up Mirage because of the cover art. “I judged a book by its cover and it turned out good!”
Zakiyyah shined in her interview! Dayton Metro Library will be gaining an enthusiastic and hardworking new library aide. Congratulations, Zakiyyah!
Volunteer Spotlight is a new, recurring feature of the Volunteer Newsletter that honors those who donate their time and talents to Dayton Metro Library.
Staff at the Northmont Branch Library enthusiastically nominated Terry Guerra for the very first Volunteer Spotlight. Branch Manager Shari Bowers says, “The success of our Reading Buddies program is due to Terry’s enthusiasm.”
Terry started volunteering for the Library in 2017 after learning about Reading Buddies in the newspaper. “I’ve always loved libraries,” she says. “My dad took me and my brothers every Sunday.” She says her experience as a Reading Buddy has been “a joy.” Reading Buddies are trained volunteers who provide a one-on-one opportunity for children to practice their reading skills. Terry fondly recalls watching a girl’s demeanor change over time as she gained confidence, as well as and an animated young man who enjoys acting out the books. “I like being a Reading Buddy because kids and reading are two of my favorite things,” she says. “Now if only they’d bring in a dog…”
Besides being an avid reader, Terry is also a writer. She currently writes for the Englewood Independent and used to write for the Dayton Daily News, among other publications. She writes book reviews for author Emilie Richards as part of a community of readers selected by the author. (If you’re interested in reading Emilie Richards but don’t know where to start, Terry recommends Whiskey Island.)
Terry also works for a water treatment company and an independent bookstore in Englewood. In March, she adopted a chocolate lab mix from the Humane Society to give her energetic Akita mix a playmate. When asked if she could think of any personal “fun facts,” Terry replied, “I can ride a unicycle. Is that a good fun fact?”
Do you know a volunteer who belongs in the spotlight? E-mail Amanda Arrington with your nominations!