Thursday, January 22, 2009

Making a difference: Cook Library volunteer Patti Johnson

by Erin Fetting | The Grand Rapids Press

Sunday November 30, 2008, 5:17 AM
Volunteer at work: Patti Johnson tutors Erica Lopez, 8, in the Cook Library Center.

EDITOR'S NOTE: "Making a Difference" profiles someone whose good works make our community a better place.

Patti Johnson has a sweet spirit.

She is softspoken and somewhat uncomfortable when attention is focused on her.

She would much rather this story be about the Cook Library Center -- a division of Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities -- and the children and community it serves.

But that spirit of hers has touched many lives at the library. It has made her stand out as a volunteer. While she is shy talking about herself, she is at home and comfortable working with the children who frequent the library after school each day.

"The first day, I just loved her," said Sue Garza, director of the Cook Library Center. "I loved how she interacted with the kids. They loved her,"

Johnson started volunteering about a year ago after a friend kept bugging her to try it. She took about three months to say yes, but once she got through the door of the library, she knew it was where she belonged.

"I said, 'Oh, you're right, I do love this place,'" Johnson said.

She used to teach Spanish, and still speaks it, which comes in handy, since many of the students at the library speak Spanish as their first language.

The library, formerly known as the Grandville Avenue Neighborhood Library, recently moved into a new building at 1100 Grandville Ave. SW. The building is larger and provides more room to serve the 80 kids a day who stop in to check out books, use the computers or get help with homework.

Working with kids is not new to Johnson. She raised three children, and at Fountain Street Church, where she is a member, she still works with the youth clubs, even though her children are grown.

"I've just always volunteered. I really believe in that," Johnson said. "I think everybody should find a way to give back."

Johnson is giving back, all right.

She recently pulled an all-nighter chaperoning a youth lock-in at the church. She seems to thrive on the excitement children can offer.

Last spring, Johnson helped students at the library create two quilts to be auctioned off in a fundraiser. The quilts were given back to the library and now hang in the community room. She already is thinking about next year's quilts.

While she is making an impact at the library, she is getting something in return.

"I feel lucky I found a good fit," she said. "It just has the feel of a neighborhood, a homey neighborhood place."

If you know someone who is making a difference in the community, contact Your Life at 222-5585 or e-mail:

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