Elmer Ivon remembers visiting the library for the first time: He was a third-grader and didn’t know a word of English. Everything was new to him. His mother took him and his younger sister to the Vidalia-Toombs County Library to get to know their new community after moving from Mexico.
“It was a welcoming and diverse environment,” he said. “The library was its own community. There was a librarian named Dusty Gres who did storytime in English and Spanish, and we had access to bilingual books. Eventually, we were able to read fully English books.”
The Ivon family also took part in PRIMETIME family reading at the library, a program that emphasizes the importance of families reading together to discuss significant cultural and ethical themes.
Elmer became a volunteer and founding member of the teen group at the library. A developing artist, he also created puppet show backgrounds and even a teen puppet show.
“When I first met Elmer he was very shy,” said Martha Powers-Jones, who led the library at the time. “As the family got more involved at the library, he became more social and I realized – Elmer is growing up! We are so proud of how he has grown as a person using art for advocacy. He has made an impact at the library.”
As a staff member for his last two years of high school, Elmer gained a personal insight into how libraries help their communities.
“I remember seeing kids who were learning English come to the library,” he said. “I would reflect how I was in the same situation growing up. It was nice to see the impact I could have by giving back.”
Cameron Asbell met Ivon when she took over as director at the library. “I have never seen Elmer without a smile on his face and a kind word for everyone,” she said. “I knew him as a teenager, and I could see that one day Elmer is going to be someone who makes a big difference in the world.”
Currently pursuing his degree in mechanical engineering at Georgia Southern University, Elmer still visits the library to find a good book and learn new things.
“As a kid, I checked out books to learn how to make puppets for library programming,” he said. “Even now, when I want to develop a new skill, I go right to the library. Libraries provide a safe space to access information, engage with the community, and learn. Now that many people are working and learning remotely, the library provides vital internet access.”
Powers-Jones kept in touch with Ivon when she became the director of Okefenokee Regional Library System, and she recruited him to draw caricatures for the library’s annual OkeCon festival.
Ivon also creates art for advocacy. Most recently, he created graphics to use as a fundraiser for the NAACP in response to the killing of George Floyd.
“Elmer and the entire Ivon family are shining examples of a library success story,” said Martha Powers-Jones. “I’m proud to have known them for so long.”