When we say libraries change lives, we mean literally. ImagineIF Libraries are places where people challenge themselves, start over, and come to know themselves more deeply. There are hundreds of stories like the ones you'll read here.
Her Passion and Purpose Found Fuel at ImagineIF
To call Sophia Skwarchuk driven might be an understatement. As a senior at Flathead High School, she participated in Model UN, ran track and cross-country, and was Vice President of her school's National Honor Society chapter. When she was selected as member of the Governor and First Lady Youth Leadership Council for Childhood Hunger, she was surprised to learn that Kalispell had the highest rate of food insecurity in the state, since there were so many food banks and pantries available. The challenge for people in need, as she saw it, was knowing where to go for help.
Skwarchuk had the inspiration and the energy to solve a problem for her community. She just needed the know-how. Unfortunately, at that time, even an excellent high school like Flathead offered no computer science classes. So she did what any self-starter would do; she headed to ImagineIF Kalispell and taught herself.
“Before then, making an app hadn’t even crossed my mind,” she said. “It seemed like this scary thing. But once I gave it a try, I really got into it.” At the library she read every book on coding she could find, and after 3 months of work, launched MontanaEats, an Android app that connects people in need with food banks across the state. It’s now used by food agencies throughout Montana.
When Sophia’s ambition exceeded her school’s resources, she turned to self-directed learning at ImagineIF to reach her full potential. Sophia headed to Brown in 2017, and shows no signs of slowing down.
From Homelessness to a Home for Veterans
In 2014, Jason Stevens was having a bad year. After a messy divorce left him living with a relative, he ended up homeless and staying at the Samaritan House shelter. Stevens began spending his days at ImagineIF Kalispell, where he, along with other Samaritan House residents, would read, use the internet, and talk.
It was during these conversations that Stevens noticed something- many of the people in his position were veterans. Veterans experiencing homelessness needed more than just a roof over their heads to move forward with their lives. They needed care and support in finding jobs, pursuing education, and getting counseling and therapy.
The time Stevens spent at ImagineIF Kalispell allowed him to talk with local veterans, understand their needs, and do research about starting a nonprofit. “70 percent of the project happened in the library.” Stevens said. Using the libraries’ non-profit resources as a springboard, Jason started a non-profit called Glacier Hope Homes, providing housing and support to Veterans in an atmosphere of trust where they can connect with other veterans and create positive growth in their lives.
ImagineIF was there for him when he was in need, not only helping him get back on his feet but giving him the resources he needed to pull others up with him.
A Place to Read for Her, A New Chapter for Him
Deirde McMullin, a Library Advisor, had the pleasure of helping a patron begin a new chapter of his life at ImagineIF while he was spending time there with his daughter. As she tells it:
“’Thank goodness for the library!’ That’s what a customer said when he brought his daughter to the library the other day. Then he confided that he had just lost his job. During this tough time he was grateful for everything we have for his daughter: books, movies, toys, and supportive staff. He was thrilled to be spending time with her in an enriching place where he didn’t feel pressured to spend money.
So I let him know we are also a place where HE can feel supported in his new life. He can schedule one-on-one appointments with a librarian to learn computer skills or whatever he needs as he starts his job search or life as a student. I sincerely feel that we gave him peace of mind and a safe space to go with his daughter.”
Her Relationship with the Library Spans a Lifetime
Marilyn Siess’s relationship to the library is truly a relationship. It’s stretched decades and passed through many iterations, but at its core, it’s always been about support, belonging and enrichment.
Some of Marilyn’s fondest childhood memories include spending time in the children’s section of the library. “The ancient sandstone building looked like a castle or a fort to my young eyes—a castle or a fort ﬁlled with adventure. My dad would drop me off for a couple of hours and I would browse and then check out and read and be introduced to worlds far from Montana. My universe expanded.”
Later, as a young mother living in the woods outside of Kalispell, her young family only had one car. Once a week she would load her babies into the car and take her husband to work so that she would have transportation to Story Hour at the library. “That hour was my contact to the outside world,” she said. “The children’s librarian, Barbara Boorman, read to the children and then we all picked out a book or two. She always had some great ideas. I had an opportunity to chat with some other moms and make some friends, and my kids had an opportunity to ﬁnd some books and interact with other kids. Those mornings were a lifeline to a stay-at-home mom who lived far from town.”
Her children are both adults now, both life-long learners and life-long readers. And the library is still an important stop on her trips to town. “I lean toward checking out novels and movies and music, and my husband reads history, nonﬁction and how-to books. We’ve both brushed up on our Spanish with help from the library.” Marilyn is like a lot of people who use the library- it’s meant something new to her at every phase of life, and had a profound impact. As she says, “The library has helped shape who I am today.”
ImagineIF Got Her Son Excited to Learn About the World
When MB Bertram’s oldest son was in kindergarten, he came home from school one day disappointed. He was upset that the school librarian had explained that kindergarteners had to wait until after Christmas break to check out non-fiction books. The curriculum didn’t call for learning the difference between fiction and non-fiction until the New Year. But, he told her, he already knew the difference between fiction and non-fiction books, and was eager to check some out! “He said that the non-fiction books were on the shelves on the wall and they taught you facts instead of telling you a story,” remembered M.B. He’d learned this at the ImagineIF Libraries.
Soon enough, her son’s curriculum caught up with his curiosity. But in the meantime, whenever he needed non-fiction books, they went to the ImagineIF library. The libraries made it possible for him, and every self-directed learner like him, to explore at his own pace.