Students studying on the upper floors in Bonnie Bell Wardman Library on Monday and Tuesday mornings this semester may have noticed a quiet, sometimes impeccably dressed, and always focused gentleman pushing a cart through the stacks. He carefully examines books and pulls out the most damaged among them. Now and again, he pulls out the bright red duster he carries to clean off the tops of old volumes.
Pablo Lora, 34 years-old and a resident of nearby Pico Rivera, is by all accounts an amazing and hard-working volunteer who has dedicated many hours to the upkeep and care of the circulating collection at Wardman Library over the past three years. He arrives at 9 a.m. every Monday and Tuesday, eager to get up into the stacks to find the collection’s most damaged items and bring them down for librarians to consider replacing, repairing, or (less commonly) recycling.
Lora came to Whittier in 2014 through In2Vision Supported Employment Programs, a local non-profit organization that, according to the group’s Facebook page and website (in2vision.org), “maximizes the personal and economic independence of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities … [by providing them] with proper guidance and support to obtain employment, work experience through volunteerism, and [to] start their own business.” In 2013, former In2Vision employee Jordan Doronila worked with then-Collections Management Librarian Mike Garabedian and Human Resources in order to provide an opportunity for Lora to contribute to operations at Wardman Library. Lora has also done data entry, scanning recycled books at the circulation desk computers to make sure they are removed from the Library catalog.
There is little doubt about the importance of the work that Lora undertakes, and each staff member makes a point to speak to Lora’s positive attitude and upbeat enthusiasm. According to Systems Librarian Nick Velkavrh, “Pablo is always a joy to work with. He’s always happy to come into work in the morning, and it’s great to see his enthusiasm and how hard he works.” Circulation Services Manager Cindy Bessler agrees. “Pablo is always so happy to be here. He is a great help to the Library,” Bessler said.
Administrative Office Manager Mary Garside went further and revealed a touching moment: “Last Christmas … I got to be the one to give Pablo a small box of chocolates just to say Happy Holidays, and when I handed them to him … I said, ‘Hey Pablo, Happy Holidays from the Library — here’s a box of chocolates!’ and he threw up his arms and gave me the biggest hug, and I cannot tell you how much that tremendously impacted me because of his willingness to be so open and kind and just appreciative of such a small token and it really affected me, it gave me such perspective on what is important,” said Garside. “This is an institution of higher learning, and we can each learn something from Pablo. He teaches me empathy, caring, kindness, and respect. He shows respect to every person he comes into contact with.”
On top of his responsibilities at the Library, Lora leads a very active lifestyle. He is filled with joy and enthusiasm and tackles life head-on. On Wednesdays, he attends Zumba at the gym because he enjoys dancing the cumbia, salsa, merengue and cha-cha. Before Zumba, “I make hot tea and burn my tongue and go ahhh, but [it helps me] sweat a lot,” said Lora. On weekends, Lora participates in an Ontario-based leadership program called Lideres En Accion, about which he says, “I am a leader, and I want for Mike [Garabedian to go]!” In this program, Lora leads discussions on social uplift where he talks and inspires others.
An extremely caring and hardworking person, Lora continuously tries to be active in the community and expresses how much he loves to give back. This is a quality he demonstrates at the Library and a quality which his mother, Maria Cepeda, highlighted. “Pablo is a guy with dreams and is an enthusiastic and hard worker,” said Cepeda. “He tells me that he is always attentive of the Library in making sure that everything is in order. His dream is to find a permanent job where someone believes in him.” In fact, Lora’s goal is to transition from volunteer work to a permanent position at the Library. “I [would] like more work … no more volunteer; I wanna try; I want more work,” said Lora. This is a goal that In2vision Administrator Elisa Valenzuela, has in mind for Lora as well. “We like to do a personal one-to-one [interaction] to give our full attention to the clients,” said Valenzuela. “As you can see, Pablo is one to love to do this kind of work. He loves to volunteer, but wants to progress more in life … and we would love to get him to where he wants to be.”
It may be that Lora could soon realize his goal. “Pablo is an amazing man and excellent volunteer,” said Interim Director of the Wardman Library Mike Garabeidan. “Though he’s here just two hours a week . . . we definitely want to look into the possibility of having him get a paycheck for the important collection development and stacks maintenance work he does.”
If the opportunity does present itself and Lora is given the chance to earn a paycheck at Wardman Library, according to Garabedian, one Library staff member who will welcome the help is Acquisitions and Building Coordinator Steven Musser, who is in charge of stacks maintenance. “Pablo has been so helpful to us. He is a true friend to the library,” said Musser. And like any true friend, Lora takes pride and joy in helping his community. Lora said enthusiastically accompanied with a big smile, “Hi, I am Pablo Lora, and I am working here!”