Katie Heaton, Assistant Director of the Mississippi Valley Library District, was presented with the Hoyleton Empowerment Champion Award at the 2022 Hoyleton Honors banquet held in February 2023.
Katie connected with the Fairmont City community in 2000 while working at the Collinsville Library. She recognized a need for a library in Fairmont City but at that time there were no brick and mortar options available so Katie worked out a partnership with Holy Rosary School to create a library in one of the vacant classrooms. Shortly after that venture began Katie identified the desperate need for Hispanic services in that community, however, she was told by city officials she would have to prove the need. So, Katie started documenting every time a non-English speaking immigrant resident came to the make-shift school library asking questions about resources and services and after two years of documentation she was able to prove the need was there.
The next challenge was figuring out how to establish an official library in Fairmont City. In 2006 the Collinsville Municipal Library broke away from the city to become a district library and when that happened a referendum passed that allowed Collinsville to expand the district to accommodate another location in Fairmont City. Katie was thrilled, but was soon disappointed when she was told by a city official, “we don’t need a library, it will just raise our taxes.” Katie tried not to get to discouraged because she knew otherwise. She had been working with members of the Fairmont City community for years now and she knew they were coming to her in the library to ask all kinds of questions, looking for all kinds of help. It wasn’t long before that very same city official spoke to Katie again, this time saying, “we didn’t know we needed a library until we got one!”
Katie laughs when she thinks about the questions she has been asked over the years. ”Once I helped a resident research what kind of animal was in his yard and then he asked me, can I eat it” she said. I have also helped an entire busload of immigrant workers from Guatemala complete the necessary paperwork to work legally in the United States. “The crazy part about that story is the only English-speaking member of that group explained that he was told by someone in Guatemala that they had to go to the Fairmont City Library and they will help you!” Katie said.
In 2004, as Katie was getting established in Fairmont City, Hoyleton’s Puentes de Esperanza program was created. Puentes de Esperanza which means Bridges of Hope, is regarded as one of the most important resources to the Hispanic community, especially to those with limited English. As a result of these two entities working together they were able to provide the entire southern Illinois region with interpretation, immigration, and health services as well as educational programs and financial guidance to help immigrants get established in the community. The library became so well known across the state that the Illinois Department of Human Services hosted listening sessions there. Listening sessions focus on the way that people in Illinois access information and assistance about long term services and supports. State agencies want to hear ideas about how Illinois could improve the way that older adults and people with disabilities, including individuals with developmental/intellectual disabilities and people with mental illness, access long term services and supports – particularly home and community-based services. The feedback and input provided during these sessions will assists the state in future legislative decisions and funding.
Kristen Shinn, Hoyleton Director of Community Development and Puentes de Esperanza, said “Katie and I are in constant communication and we are always on the same page when it comes to removing barriers for the people we serve.” Kristen added, “our missions are very similar so we are always in collaboration on how to help the community, we identity the same need gaps and find ways to make it work.”
The Fairmont City Library has hosted and promoted countless events for Puentes de Esperanza. The more than 18,000 members of the Hispanic community throughout the Southern Illinois region know they can come to the Fairmont City library to be put in touch with someone from Puentes or on many occasions attend a workshop at the library hosted by Puentes. This meaningful partnership was never more apparent than during the COVID pandemic. The Hispanic community was hit hard by COVID and because wi-fi resources were limited in the Fairmont City area it was challenging getting information out to the community to educate them on the dangers of the virus, the necessary safety precautions and vaccination availability. The Puentes team worked hard to get desperately needed information and resources to members of the Fairmont City Community. Katie and her library staff were involved every step of the way helping to disseminate information, provide health care options to those that were sick or to mobilize supply distribution from their location in the community.
Another successful partnership for Puentes and the Fairmont City Library is the Penny Severns Family Literacy Grant. Puentes clients, with limited English, are directed to the library for ESL classes. This grant allows for parenting classes as well as assistance with reading, writing and math for both parents and children. The library also hosts a variety of family literacy events and additional programs for children in the children’s section of the library. All programs are supported and promoted through Puentes.
The successful Puentes/library partnership attracted local businesses like Busey Bank to conduct business within the community. Busey Bank provides financial assistance and banking services to the community at their location which is connected to the library. Busey also hires staff for that branch location from the Fairmont City community.
Puentes de Esperanza and the Fairmont City Library are also both members of the Latino Roundtable. The Latino Roundtable of Southwestern Illinois is a group of community organizations, businesses, colleges, universities and agencies unified in purpose to develop and expand resources and social services to the Latino community in St. Louis Metro East area. Katie became the chairperson of the organization this past year and she doesn’t even speak Spanish, but that didn’t matter, her commitment to the community and on-going efforts to find the answers to questions for her local community made her the perfect choice. During her tenure as the Latino Roundtable chairperson the organization won the State Farm Neighborhood Assistance Grant. This was a nationwide grant that awarded $25,000 to a deserving community. This funding allowed for 63 wi-fi hot spots to be given to village residents and other hot spots available for check out through the library. The remaining balance of the grant was presented to the mayor of Fairmont City at their council meeting and will be used to pre-pay for greenspace Wi-fi access in Fairmont City for approximately the next four years. Connecting this community with wi-fi access will help them communicate with employers, local school districts, medical providers, family back home and give them direct access to other valuable information.