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A LITTLE LIBRARY WITH A BIG PURPOSE

KASSANNDRA MARIA SANTIAGO


Maria Gomez-Vega is a literacy advocate who felt called to serve her community through what she loved most: books. After 18 years of service, Maria retired from the Orange County Public School System in 2018. Gomez-Vega wanted to continue giving back to the same community that gave back to her and inspire a love of reading in community members. In 2018, she created The Pine Hills Little Library, which sits in the middle of the Robbinswood Community in Pine Hills, Florida. Studies have shown that being more than 20 minutes away from any public library can disrupt a family's access to literature. Having a library in the middle of the community can make a huge difference to a child, especially if it is conveniently placed on their way home or to a store. Busy parents recognize that it takes time for them to go to a library to get a library card. "My parents never had the time to take us to the library-they were in survival mode," stated Gomez-Vega. Language, supervision, and transportation barriers can also directly affect a child's experience and access to literature.


As a child of migrant workers, Gomez-Vega's parent's main focus was on providing a roof and food for their children. "Education was important, but extras like books were not feasible. I know many families struggle as ours did, and providing fundamentals.  As a child of migrant workers, Gomez-Vega's parent's main focus was on providing a roof and food for their children. "Education was important, but extras like books were not feasible. I know many families struggle as ours did, and providing fundamentals such as books is of the utmost importance in a young person's life. Providing reading materials for adults is a great way to combat boredom and loneliness. It is a chance for the reader to leave their current situation and escape to an uncharted world," Mrs. Gomez-Vega stated. Gomez-Vega was bedridden as a child and suffered ailments that prevented her from attending school in person. She credits an amazing teacher who didn't leave her behind and would deliver books to her home so that she could imagine a world outside of her room. "I would read books about Canada and other countries, which gave me something to entertain my brain and be imaginative. Gomez-Vega constantly nods to the lack of accessibility to books, propelling her to continue moving forward; even when starting out, she did not have the level of books she envisioned.


At first, one of the biggest hurdles was getting the word out. She mentioned that she knew so many teachers and school staff that when the book bans were enacted, many schools brought me the books that they could no longer have in their libraries. Gomez-Vega was now getting those banned books into the hands of people who wanted them. Ironically, it turned out to be many of the same people in the same neighborhoods from which some were trying to keep the information. "That's paramount," stated Gomez-Vega. Schools are bound by different laws, but the teachers knew to bring them to little libraries. The teachers' actions to ensure that these books didn't end up in a wasteyard but in the hands of people who wanted them is the benefit that communities like ours thrive on. Her dedication to providing access to books for her community is truly inspiring. Gomez Vega's motto, which she often shares, is that "literacy is a fundamental human right and the foundation for lifelong learning." The impact on the community, her passion for literacy, and her dedication to serving her community have made a significant impact on the lives of many individuals, especially children who may not have had access to books otherwise through The Pine Hills Little Library, which is located on the corner of Balboa Drive and Powers Road. Gomez-Vega can be reached via lnstagram @PH_littlefreelibrary (scan OR Code provided) if you would like to contact her, donate books, or visit The Pine Hills Little Library. You can also check out Little Libraries across Orange County or nationally by entering your zip code in the "World Map" at the Little Library website.

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