The Community Foundation of Greater Muscatine announced last week the most recent recipients of the Racial Justice Grant – West Liberty Public Library and the West Liberty School District.
The Racial Justice Fund was established earlier this year to further advance racial justice, equity, and inclusion in Muscatine and Louisa Counties. Granting funds are available to qualified, charitable organizations whose work acts as an accelerator or reduces barriers towards racial justice, centered on those most marginalized in our service area.
It is the second grant provided to the school district – the first came late last year in the form of creating a Los Cometas Mariachi band as part of the West Liberty High School band program under the direction of Ashley Smith.
West Liberty School District
Serving students from West Liberty, Nichols and Atalissa, the West Liberty Community School District (WLCSD), established in 1921, plans to use the funds to purchase high interest and low reading level books for the 81 Spanish speaking students in the English Language Learning program and their families.
“This project will go a long way to increasing equity and inclusion in our school,” states Kelly Butcher, teacher/librarian at the high school and middle school.
“It is vital that students walk into our library and see themselves reflected in the books they read,” she added. “History and culture are inherent in language. Learning our native language allows us to learn the same history and culture of our parents, relatives, and even the generations before and after us.”
West Liberty Public Library
The West Liberty Free Public Library, serving the community since 1904, provides open access to cultural, intellectual, educational, and recreational information and ideas to enrich the community according to director Allie Paarsmith.
The library plans to use the funds to collect racially diverse books, online resources, and software to stream books in various languages, and to contract a local translator to translate the website, catalog and resources into Spanish.
“Serving West Liberty, Atalissa, Nichols, and rural Muscatine County residents, the West Liberty Public Library serves a community that is majority minority, with a significant Latinx population,” states Paarsmith. “While West Liberty Public Library has materials and resources in both English and Spanish, many of our books are outdated or no longer interest our patrons and our resources could use growth to better reflect the needs and diversity of our community.”
“We want to continue to grow the materials and resources available to our multi-cultural community to create a more inclusive library,” she said.
In forming the Mariachi band, the West Liberty High School Band music program plans to fund the program to be used for students of any socioeconomic status to participate in the program by funding all necessary instruments, instruction, and sheet music. The grant will also allow the department to hire local community musicians from West Liberty and Muscatine to assist in teaching lessons and rehearsals, enabling them to uplift Latinx voices and maintain the integrity and authenticity of the mariachi tradition.
West Liberty represents the first majority Hispanic town in the state of Iowa, and their school district features the second K-12 dual-language program in the state. This program will offer equity in access to the materials and instructions needed for participation in a school mariachi ensemble. Everyone in the community will be able to expand their understanding of and respect for the Mexican culture, officials noted.
The Community Foundation of Greater Muscatine is a community-wide, county-wide charitable organization actively working to improve the quality of life in Muscatine County through philanthropy.
Also getting a grant was the Diversity Service Center of Iowa, founded in 2001 by five Latino members of Muscatine that saw the need to assist families with their immigration process and advocate for senior citizens ages 60-plus. The purpose of DSCI is to improve the quality of life through economic development by providing education, information, and social services.
Rosa Mendoza, Executive Director at the Diversity Service Center of Iowa, says the organization “advocates for our constituents. Through information and services, we help them through their processes from the very beginning with whatever benefit they are applying for.”
For more information about applying for grants or establishing your own fund for granting purposes, call the Community Foundation at 563-264-3863 or visit the website at www.muscatinecommunityfoundation.org.