Teona Shainidze-Krebs is the Chief Librarian and CEO of Pikes Peak Library District.
I was born and grew up in the country of Georgia. This was during a time of much political uncertainty and turmoil in the country. As a teenager, my family was forced to flee my home country, and we moved to Russia.
As you can imagine, this was a scary and uncertain time for my family, not just because of the circumstances of our move, but because we also found ourselves in a new country where we didn’t speak the language. Many people might not know this, but to Georgians, Russian is a foreign language. It is a foreign language similar to how we consider Spanish or Chinese to be a foreign language in America.
In Russia, there is no support for new residents to learn the language and acclimate to society. My mom and dad were truly on their own in acclimating to a new country and trying to help their kids adjust to a new way of life.
Years later, I made the big decision to move to America. Once I landed, I discovered that the resources and opportunities for new families to learn the language and find their place in our communities were seemingly around every corner.
The local library was one of the best resources, with everything from English as a Second Language (ESL) courses to job training and even citizenship courses so immigrants can earn their citizenship. There was nothing like this in Russia to help families adapt to a new life, but the library was central to me finding my way in America.
When I started as a part-time ESL instructor in Pikes Peak Library District's Adult Education program, it inspired my passion for adult education. Eventually, it led to my own career serving our community through our Library. My proudest moment came years later when, as the Director of Adult Education for PPLD, I was able to watch my mom and dad go through their own naturalization ceremony and earn their American citizenship at one of our libraries.
However, this story didn’t come full circle for me until I was introduced to a family from Afghanistan who found themselves here in very similar circumstances, struggling to integrate into a new culture in the same way my family struggled to find our way in Russian society. The husband was an interpreter for the U.S. military, and his bravery put himself and his family in direct danger from the Taliban.
He knew one of the first things he would need to do was earn a GED, and his wife needed to get into ESL courses so she could learn English. Through the Library, he was able to take classes and earn his GED while his wife participated in ESL courses and learned English. They both utilized these programs in our Library to adjust to their new life and become valuable members of our community.
It meant so much to them to be welcomed to America and to know there was so much support and help in acclimating to a new life.
The Library gives me a great sense of pride in this country. Not every community in the world has the same tools and resources to help people better their lives and adjust to the circumstances thrown their way. However, our local libraries ARE that space where people can find the resources and tools to connect them to opportunities and a better way of life.
It means so much to me that my own personal story was influenced by the Library, and today I am able to help share that gift with so many other people in our community!
All you need is your library. But your library needs you, too! Support Pikes Peak Library District by making a charitable gift to the PPLD Foundation. Click here to make your donation today. Thank you!