We have much wisdom to gain by learning to understand other people’s cultures and permitting ourselves to accept that there is more than one version of reality. — Louis Menand, Pulitzer Prize-winning author.
During National Library Week, April 24 to 29, The YWCA Gettysburg and the Adams County Library System are collaborating to provide “human books” for checkout, allowing participants to learn firsthand about other cultures and experiences.
The project is inspired by the nonprofit Human Library Organization, located in Copenhagen, which has challenged people to “unjudge someone” since its formation in 2002.
The model inspired the YWCA’s Acting CEO Nancy Lilley, along with Sara Edminston and Bob Brown from the Adams County Library System, to offer a similar sort of experience locally.
Participants in the series participated in small groups during 30-minute sessions with the living authors. In these stories, our reporters share their experiences at the sessions.
The nine living authors who participated include Athar Rafiq: From Diplomacy to Refugee—it has been a Journey; Rukhsana Rahman: So where are you from: and other such questions; Kay Hollabaugh: The Race to the Blueberry Patch; Brigid Goss: Two years in China: Tales from the Middle Kingdom; Carla Christopher: The One-Stop Diversity Shop: Story of a black, Jewish, Lesbian Lutheran Pastor-activist; Judith Leslie, My Eyes Were Opened; Joe and Maria Levenstein: You Shall be Holy: Two paths to Jewish spirituality; Lavetta Thomas: TLC for the Soldiers of WWII and Jenine Weaver: And Now it Feels Like Home.
The YWCA Gettysburg and Adams County Library System provided human books for checkout during National Library Week, April 24 to 29, allowing participants to learn firsthand about other cultures and experiences.
Jenine Weaver: And Now It Feels Like Home
Jenine Weaver was born and raised in a rural area of Adams County, but it never felt like home. She left as a young woman to seek her future in the more urban area of Baltimore, where she attended and graduated from college while working and raising three children. She attained a degree in accounting and landed a job at Johns Hopkins Hospital, was buying her first home, and looking forward to the future. And then the bottom fell out. Her partner decided to leave, and soon after, she lost her job and house and was eventually evicted from the apartment where she lived.
Now pregnant with her fourth child, Weaver, on the advice of a friend, reluctantly decided to return to Adams County. No family and friends could take on a pregnant woman and her three young children, but eventually, a friend could relocate her to a shelter. That was just a few weeks before she gave birth to her fourth child.
Weaver remembers the time as a struggle between being a mother of four, trying to find work, and fighting the periods of depression which threatened to overtake her. That was six years ago.
Through the kindness and caring of local residents and her determination, she eventually found work from home as an accountant and moved into her own home. And then, she decided last October to rent an office and hang up her accountant sign. The number of clients tripled. While she still fears that something like that could happen again, she mostly feels grateful to her new friends and support group, who will always be there for her.
Now with children aged between 6 and 15, Jeanine Weaver is a success story, one who found peace with the rural area she ran from so long ago. “And now,” Weaver said, “it feels like home.”
Judith Leslie: My Eyes Were Opened
Judith Leslie moved to Gettysburg in the early 1970s, a former fifth-grade, high school English and English as a Second Language teacher. She paused her career to raise two children and then decided to go back to work in 1987. This time her teaching career took a different direction, one where she tutored the children of migrant farm workers.
“I learned that these families began their migration in Florida early in the year and then traveled north, finally coming to Adams County in the late summer and early fall.”
Leslie remembers visiting the migrant camps in the northern part of the county that provided homes— “if you could call them that”—for the workers and their families. At that time, some families decided to stay in the area year-round. Leslie remembers how difficult it was for them to learn the language and understand the new culture they had adopted. Families did not understand the role of education the way same way Americans did, she recalled, often keeping students at home to babysit or to act as interpreters for their parents.
After acquiring the 15 graduate credits needed to finish her career working with ESL students, Leslie taught ESL classes at Lincoln Elementary School, helping children from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Haiti, India, China, Sierra Leone, Kenya, Poland, Bosnia, and Myanmar. “I spent a great deal of time advocating for these children as well as teaching them,” she said, adding that not all county residents welcomed these families from other areas. “I understood the hardships they faced in their journey to adapt to life in a new culture.”
Leslie, the granddaughter of immigrants from Poland and Czechoslovakia, was raised in a diverse town near Pittsburg. She has always felt that the best way to fight ethnic and religious discrimination is to engage with people from other places, countries, or economic groups. Although retired from Lincoln ES, she tutors refugees, most recently from Myanmar and Afghanistan. Leslie fondly recalls working with two Burmese families who learned English, acquired employment, became Habitat for Humanity Homeowners, and eventually U.S. citizens.
Featured image caption: Athar Rafiq, right, Living Library author of “From Diplomacy to Refugee” explains how the human lending library works to resident Jean (John) Cornillon, a native of France who settled in the area many years ago.
Judith Cameron Seniura is a freelance reporter. She began her journalism career in the early ‘70s and has written for newspapers, magazines, and other media in Ontario, Canada, Alaska, Michigan, Nebraska, San Antonio, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.