Community Reads and Conversations
Thank you to the Montgomery County residents, Montgomery City Public Library patrons, Library Board, and ABC Book Club for participating in the Community Reads and Conversations.
Montgomery City Public Library’s
Community Reads and Conversations
April 14, 2022
The Montgomery City Public Library hosted two Community Reads and Conversations dealing with topics related to Montgomery County this winter. The goal of these events was for participants to better understand people who struggle with drugs and poverty or have limited access to services in rural areas. The Montgomery City Public Library received a $3000.00 grant from the Association of Rural and Small Libraries: Libraries Transforming Communities, in conjunction with the American Library Association, to sponsor these events.
For the first round, the members of the community were invited to read Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance and to discuss how it relates to Montgomery County. Twenty-seven community members, of diverse backgrounds and ages, discussed how poverty, dysfunction, drug use, and assimilation to a new area affected the main character J.D. and their personal family and friends. One woman in attendance stated that it was surprising to hear of the varied backgrounds and opinions of the participants, which made things very interesting.
Patti Pazdera, a former Hermann High School Counselor, provided data concerning the students in the Montgomery area. Over the past three years, the Montgomery Country R2 School District had an average of 47% free & reduced lunch rates, a 19% mobility rate. Many participants were surprised how movement in and out of the school district or community (mobility rate) had such an adverse influence on student learning and success. Mrs. Pazdera also stressed the importance of making connections with youths who are struggling to overcome obstacles just as J.D. connected with his grandmother and teachers. By establishing sincere and compassionate relationships between caring adults and struggling students, the youth can build their self-confidence, overcome obstacles, and learn about the many opportunities that are available to them.
An important aspect that came out of the Hillbilly Elegy Community Conversation was one concerning available services for those experiencing homelessness, poverty, addiction, and other hardships like J.D. and his family. Several participants discussed the need for a directory of services available in the county. A group that included the library director, a retired pastor, a retired teacher, and a retired nurse researched and developed a list of community services to share with the public. These lists are available at the Montgomery City Public Library, through the Wellsville Buddy Packs (school to home food), and other local community groups. The list is available at the Montgomery City Public Library as is the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office’s booklet entitled “Montgomery County Family Yellow Pages”, which has additional county agencies and contact information.
The second Community Read and Conversation was on The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson. The goal of this conversation was to gain a better understanding of people in a rural setting who are in need of resources. An older participant shared insights on growing up in a mining town similar to the main character, Cussy Mary in the book. Twenty-eight participants discussed how homelessness, prejudice, illiteracy, and lack of resources are just as current in 2022 Montgomery County as they were in Troublesome Creek, Kentucky in 1936.
Some audience members were surprised that there are homeless people in Montgomery County since they do not see them on the streets like in large cities. Many indicated that they have seen substandard homes in Montgomery County that would be like one step up from homelessness. Others commented on how the lack of Wi-Fi and high-speed internet in the county affects literacy and education just as the lack of books affected the folks in rural Kentucky.
Prejudice was very evident in the novel because Cussy Mary was a blue woman from a poor family in a mining town. Participants explained their experiences with prejudice such as a woman attending a gay men’s event or being an outsider who moved into a new area and was not welcomed by its citizens. Other women shared that they were discriminated against because they were considered not as strong or capable as men.
Because sharing books and information are so prevalent in The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, literacy facts were shared during the second conversation. According to Data USA, 16.3% of the population for whom poverty status is determined in Montgomery County live below the poverty line, a number that is higher than the national average of 12.3%. The largest demographic living in poverty are females ages 25-34, followed by females ages 45-54, and then males ages 6-11. According to Welfare Info, Montgomery County rates 46th out of 115 counties in the state with a poverty rate of 16.3%. Members of the Montgomery County Literacy Council shared information about local classes to get your high school equivalency. There will be HiSet classes available at the Montgomery County Health Department on Tuesday and Thursday nights from 5-8 pm. The HiSet classes are free and there are scholarships for the testing fee. Interested students should contact East Central College at www.eastcentral.edu/ael or call 1-844-322-4235. One participant said she understood the feeling of being illiterate when she tried to read a menu in Italy. She had no idea what it said or meant.
The discussion about the need for available resources carried over from the first conversation. The facilitator shared the community resource list and the Montgomery County Sheriff’s “Montgomery County Family Yellow Pages.” Many were surprised at the number of services that are already available to those in need and that they should be more publicized. The library also has Care Kits (personal care items) available to those in need. The kits are donated by the Touch of Hope charity.
Participants were surveyed after both conversations. Some comments included that the conversations were “interesting,” “enlightening”, and “very well organized and informative.” Others commented about the many people in the audience who had experiences that could benefit the group as a whole such as teachers, pastors, health department, literacy council, nurses, etc. One liked that “each person has a unique perspective” to share while another stated, “It was good that there was a diverse group of people with lots of different opinions.”
Other insights from the conversations include not being afraid of differences in people but celebrating them, not fearing the unknown, showing kindness, being open-minded, and taking time to truly get to know others and make personal connections. Furthermore, people should become aware of others, their personal situations, and what resources and opportunities are available. Many agree that the community conversations need to continue to address important issues that face Montgomery County.
The Montgomery City Public Library will continue hosting more Community Reads and Conversations this fall. It is through conversation that we can better understand what our family, friends, and neighbors are experiencing. As one participant summarized, “We should reach beyond our comfort zone to learn more about people who are different from us.” As we understand other people more, we can better help them and meet their needs.