Laura Bradshaw: La señora de la biblioteca
Laura Bradshaw walked into Wood Village Green Mobile Home Park in Troutdale, a stack of flyers in her hand. It was March 2014 and she wanted to advertise local library programs.
That’s when she noticed a crowd of children playing outside, a small basketball court and no parents. Her curiosity led her towards the manager’s office with questions about the neighborhood’s needs.
The manager told her about the high poverty, parents working long hours, while their children stayed home, unsupervised and unengaged. Older siblings were left by necessity to care for their brothers and sisters. With no access to transportation, the streets of the mobile home park became their playground.
About 80 percent of the tenants of the complex are Latinos, mainly from Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador, according to Bradshaw.
Bradshaw is the bilingual library assistant at Multnomah County’s Fairview-Columbia Library, located about a mile away from the mobile home park. Her job focuses on connecting patrons with information, outreach activities and conducting library programs. She works closely with the Latino community to promote literacy.
Soon after that first trip to Wood Village Green, Bradshaw began to brainstorm ways to close the distance between the neighborhood kids and educational services offered by the library.
Libraries offer storytime in English and Spanish, but Vietnamese, Russian and Chinese too. Spanish is the most requested: 10 out of the19 locations offer storytime in Spanish.
Still, not everyone could make it to the library. So, Bradshaw decided to bring storytime to the neighborhood.
The Wood Village Green manager suggested she share the community room with a local elementary teacher who uses the space for homework assistance. Bradshaw took the manager’s advice and spoke with parents and children about hosting a weekly bilingual storytime within steps of their home.
On the first day, roughly 30 children arrived. “I was almost crying,” Bradshaw said. “I couldn’t believe it.”
More than a year later, Bradshaw continues to visit her “little ones,” as she affectionately calls the park’s youngest residents. They sing, dance, make crafts and read two to three books everyTuesday. Bradshaw has also created a book exchange, bringing a selection of English and Spanish books for them to take home.
“Working for the community is my passion,” said Bradshaw. “I enjoy serving its members and going where they are. I want to offer something that can be meaningful, and improve and empower the community.”
For Bradshaw, early literacy is a powerful tool, but growing up, books were scarce. Born and raised in the central Mexican city of Cuernavaca, Morelos, Bradshaw found ways to read anything she could get her hands on, from literature to comics.
Her parents worked tirelessly to provide for their family of four. From an early age, she remembers her parents stressing the importance of education.
So at 15, Bradshaw enrolled in the Escuela Militar de Enfermeras. Three years later she graduated with her high school diploma and a nursing certification.
She went on to serve as a military nurse at a general hospital until three years later, in her early 20s, when she returned to the academy to teach.
Still hungry for education, she spent her free afternoons studying law and, by age 30, became a lawyer. She continued her military career, while seeing clients during free moments in the afternoons.
After serving 16 years in the military, Bradshaw retired and moved to England.
Bradshaw said leaving the army was a difficult choice. She traded stability and security for uncertainty. But she took advantage of the opportunity.
She moved to Bristol, England, and enrolled in classes at a local community college to learn how to speak English. Within six months she secured a job as a teacher assistant at a Catholic elementary school.
“Europe was a good opportunity,” she said. “English was an essential need to learn. I fell in love with the city, and I learned the language. But you never really finish learning the language.”
When she returned to Mexico three years later, Bradshaw became an English as a second Language (ESL) teacher at a Montessori school. A decade later, in 2003, she moved to the United States and got married.
“I never wanted to stay doing one thing,” she said. “I’m a person who likes curiosity.”
This new chapter in her life came with fresh opportunities. She began working at El Programa Hispano Católico, a program that serves Spanish-speaking residents in Multnomah County.
While working side-by-side with community members, Bradshaw saw a glaring lack of resources in the Latino community, a population that has grown steadily in Multnomah County, from 8 percent in 2000 to 11 percent a decade later.
Many Latinos have moved to east Multnomah County, where 18 percent of the population live in poverty, according to the Multnomah County 2014 Poverty Report.
By coming to them and introducing educational services, Bradshaw hopes to empower the Latino community.
Bradshaw joined the county nine years ago. She served as a clerk at the Midland Library and after three years she became a library assistant at the Troutdale Library before joining her current location in 2013.
Bradshaw is also helping to support Multnomah County Library’s systemwide outreach. Along with several library colleagues, she works with the county’s Health Department to offer storytime to infants and toddlers. She has also collaborated with former employer, El Programa Hispano to read books to the elders group. The urgency for literacy keeps her motivated.
“Reading can give you everything,” she said. “You increase the capacity to develop vocabulary, listening and writing skills. It is incredible what you can do.”
At the mobile home park, Bradshaw is known as “La señora de la biblioteca,” or “The woman from the library.”
As they leave the community room each week, children hug Bradshaw and wave goodbye.
They each carry a book in their hand and smile on their face.
Story and Photos Courtesy of Multnomah County Library