The solutions to our biggest problems often come from unexpected places. It turns out that public libraries are perfectly positioned to change the lives of some of society’s most marginalized communities!

Sometimes, opportunities seem obvious after they are discovered, but at the outset, their genius seems revolutionary.

Image: Person walking through library shelves

Source: Pixabay

Have you given much thought to the changing role of libraries in the past few decades?

Public libraries attract marginalized populations like individuals experiencing homelessness because they are free spaces, open to everyone.  Instead of overlooking the issues facing these library users, many public libraries like those in San Francisco, D.C., Los Angeles, Denver, and Toronto are implementing amazing programs to serve these populations!

In 2017, over half a million individuals in the United States experienced homelessness. 1

In response to these statistics, and the unique issues these individuals face, the Denver Public Library started its Community Resource Specialist program in 2015. Two years later, they expanded their social services to include three Peer Navigators.

These are “individuals with ‘lived experience,’ meaning they are in recovery and have found stabilization in regards to housing, mental health and/or substance abuse.” 2 And it’s these peer navigators who have been able to connect with the library’s population of individuals experiencing homelessness in remarkable ways!

One of these peer navigators is Cuica Montoya, a truly extraordinary individual who has had her own experiences with homelessness and substance abuse. In fact, it’s this specific background that allows her to connect with the community she supports in life-changing ways. As she puts it:

“I can be who I needed.”

Thankfully, to celebrate this hero and shine a spotlight on the incredible work of the Denver Public Library, one of our favorite YouTube Channels, Great Big Story, profiled Cuica in their series, DEFENDERS.

“Somebody just honoring my presence could have been something really wonderful for me.”—Cuica Montoya

The Importance of Making Others Feel Seen

On Mondays, we gather our curation team to pitch ideas for upcoming articles. While we sat around the table and watched this video, we were all silently in awe of Cuica and the work she is doing. If you missed this, go back and watch the way she interacted with every one of those individuals—the way they held her hand and felt seen.

Now, that is the kind of moving, and important work we could be celebrating on a daily basis; the kind of heroes we should all be hearing about.

“She never judged me, because she understands. Having somebody out there that really cared… that was the whole world to me.”

And that is the power of peer mentoring at work in fields all around our planet. When we empower the people on the frontlines of a problem to take action and build solutions that include them, that’s when we see extraordinary outcomes.

20 minutes

Empowering Homeless People: One Stitch at a Time

Detroit resident Veronika Scott grew up in a broken home... and grew determined to end the sadness of the needy and homeless. Hear about her organization, The Empowerment Plan, as well as her coat/sleeping bag invention, in today's feature.

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Our aim with Ever Widening Circles is to change the negative dialogue about our world. It shouldn’t be that hard, as we’ve discovered that all around the globe, people are changing the world for the better in ways both big and small. And we can all be multipliers in their work by celebrating and supporting them, and sharing their stories!

8 minutes

Teaching the Homeless to Code

Could knowing how to code change your life? Think not?... Take a look at the possibilities! What about teaching the homeless to code? This one is amazing.

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We are truly grateful to be able to write about thought leaders like the Denver Public Library and heroes like Cuica almost daily. They are incredible reminders that “it’s still an amazing world!”

Stay beautiful & keep laughing!

-Liesl

Celebrate more people like Cuica!

For more people making a difference in their communities, check out our Thought Leaders library! It’s just the place to find yourself uplifted about the world!

ThoughT Leaders on EWC

Notes:

  1. “Homeless People in the U.S. 2007-2017 | Statistic.” Statista. Statista, 2018. Web. 17 Oct. 2018. <https://www.statista.com/statistics/555795/estimated-number-of-homeless-people-in-the-us/>.
  2. ChrisH. “Peer Navigators Help Demystify Social Service System.” Denver Public Library. Denver Public Library, 12 Jan. 2017. Web. 17 Oct. 2018. <https://www.denverlibrary.org/blog/chrish/peer-navigators-help-demystify-social-service-system>.
  3. “The Library Fighting Homelessness.” Great Big Story. YouTube, 27 Aug. 2018. Web. 17 Oct. 2018. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0v5Z9RPrg6U>.

Liesl Ulrich-Verderber

COO Ever Widening Circles

Liesl is a camera-toting traveler, a global story seeker, and an aspiring—but more often floundering—yoga lover. She can be found on Instagram @Liesl.UV