Congresswoman's library visit sheds light on a program that provides books for immigrant children.

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Rep. Suzanne Bonamici reads to children during storytime at Beaverton City Library on Tuesday morning.

U.S Rep. Suzanne Bonamici has been spending her congressional recess learning about — and drawing attention to — different local programs that face federal funding cuts, and this morning was no different. Bonamici met with representatives from the Oregon State Library, Washington County Cooperative Library Services and Early Learning Washington County at Beaverton City Library to learn about a program that benefits immigrants and refugees in Beaverton, one of Oregon's most diverse cities.

Bridging Cultures — Growing Early Readers is a program facilitated by Early Learning Washington County, a partnership between United Way of the Willamette and Washington County Health and Human Services. Early Learning Washington County worked with the Beaverton City Library last year to provide books in Somali, Vietnamese, Chinese, Arabic and Spanish to children in immigrant and refugee families.

The Bridging Cultures program was made possible through a $100,000 grant from the Library Services and Technology Act, which is administered through the Oregon State Library. President Trump's proposed federal budget would significantly cut funding for library services.

"This is what the federal dollars are doing, and this is why we need to be supporting programs like this," said Bonamici, adding that she plans to use Bridging Cultures as an example when advocating for library services funding in Washington, D.C. "When we have grants like this, they go right to the children that need them."

Early Learning Washington County is now about half a year into a second program, also federally funded, called Bridging Cultures — Growing Early Scientists. Operated through the Hillsboro City Library, this program is similar to the first, but focuses on developing science, math and engineering skills, rather than reading.

"Each of these two grants is $100,000 from the state library board, from federal appropriation, which is on the cutting block," said Bill Thomas, director of Early Learning Washington County. "So it is so important that you (Bonamici) came today, to communicate to the current administration that these programs are not extras. They're fundamental."

Representatives from the different immigrant communities Bridging Cultures serves each spoke for a few minutes about their experiences with the program. Abdi Somow, a Somali-American who moved to Beaverton when he was 15 in the early 2000s, now works with Bridging Cultures to bring early literacy skills to his community.

Somow drives to families' homes to distribute books, and will often spend up to 30 minutes with a Somalian parent, showing them how make reading engaging to their children. He said that often, the only member of the family who knows how to read is the father, but the mother is the one staying home with the children. He tells mothers that even if they can't read to their children, they still can look at the pictures and make up stories as they go along, so as to instill an appreciation for books in their children.

"During my experience working in education over seven years, I've found out that most of the children who are behind in high school, that starts in the beginning," Somow said.

Somow attended Beaverton High School, and has lived within walking distance of Beaverton City Library since moving to the area over a decade ago. He said he spent a lot of time at the library as a teenager, but that he wasn't aware of any programs like Bridging Cultures back then.

"I was put right into high school, not knowing how to access the resources that the school or the library offered."

Bridging Cultures isn't the only library-affiliated program at risk of losing funding, should President Trump's proposed budget pass. Katie Anderson, a youth services consultant with the Oregon State Library, said that the Library Services and Technology Act also funds statewide programs like research databases, online career services, educational tools for school librarians and a book courier service.

"Oregon is really disparate demographically, so we use those funds to help Eastern Oregon to have a catalogue and courier system," Anderson said. "Someone living in Spray, Oregon, which only has a couple hundred people, can check books out from the Pendleton Public Library. That's a huge program that provides more equitable library services to isolated, rural communities in Oregon."

Anderson went on to say that she's glad Bonamici will now have a concrete example of a Library Services and Technology Act-funded program to share with her colleagues in Congress.

Blair Stenvick
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