By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Librarian feted for literacy efforts
• Olga Castaneda passionate about literacy
Olga Castaneda for web.jpg
Olga Castaneda, a 1991 graduate of Ceres High School and now Ceres librarian, will be honored on March 8.

Ceres branch librarian Olga Castaneda will be honored for developing innovative programs to bring literacy to the community in Stanislaus County.

Castaneda – who is being honored for her work as the former Stanislaus County Youth Services Outreach Librarian – will be receiving the Jean and Clyde Dunlap Award from LearningQuest.

As part of a youth outreach that started in June 2015, Castaneda developed an innovative and effective approach to family engagement by holding literacy workshops at parks, churches, apartment complexes, and schools. She has visited agricultural and industrial workplaces and attended community events, distributing free books, issuing library cards and offering tips on how to incorporate reading into daily life.

“My supervisors gave me the freedom to grow the outreach department and so I collaborated with the Library Foundation and also the Stanislaus Community Foundation and through them I was able to create a lot of contacts,” said Olga. “So I did have access to people out in the business community and non-profits.”

A 17-year employee of the Stanislaus County Library system and 1991 Ceres High School graduate, Olga also helped established a reading club for young men at Juvenile Hall and created a library at the Juvenile Justice Center in Modesto serving the county’s youth.

After she earned her master’s degree, Castaneda became a library branch supervisor and regional librarian.

“What helps me get up every morning is the thought of the opportunity to connect people and books and the opportunity to contribute to literacy. I was a struggling reader and so I came to discover reading for pleasure late in life and I’m really, really compassionate about literacy because of it. Also, I’m an immigrant and feel that I’ve been given this great opportunity to learn and go to school and graduated and is my way to give back to the community. It’s quite a privilege.”

Castaneda believes that parents can make a huge difference in stimulating their children to read but many do not.

“Here in our county we have some schools where we have only 15 percent of students coming into kindergarten ready to learn. We’re not going to change those statistics until we get parents and caregivers involved. We want to contribute in a positive way towards creating a more literate community and to me it starts when kids are young.”

She suggests that all parents of young children spend time reading to them daily, even if for a few minutes to a half hour.

“Knowledge is really powerful,” she added.

Castaneda was among 10 librarians in the United States in 2016 to receive a prestigious national award sponsored by the American Library Association.

On Friday, March 8 she will be one of two advocates for adult literacy to be recognized at the 20th annual Celebrate Literacy awards luncheon of the Literacy Network of Stanislaus County. The event will also honor four adult students. The awards luncheon at the Petersen Event Center, 720 12th Street in Modesto is open to the public. Check-in begins at 11 a.m. Cost of $35 includes a catered lunch. The program will end at 1 p.m. To register, visit or call Debra Ruiz at 238-1766.

Individual awards will be presented for outstanding achievement in English as a Second Language, Literacy, and High School Diploma or Equivalency.

The Betty Mulnix Service Award will be presented to Trinidad Estrada, a high school equivalency program teacher at Central Valley Opportunity Center. She previously served 27 years as a teacher of English as a Second Language and reading.  Personally familiar with the difficulty of being a non-fluent speaker in a school’s English spoken environment, she has made personal connections with many students over the years. By providing a blended learning environment of direct classroom instruction and digital technology, she improves students’ reading and writing to prepare them to pass their high school equivalency tests.

Also to be honored with English as a Second Language (ESL) Awards are Leticia Crisantos of Patterson and Esmeralda Felix of Modesto.

Crisantos set a goal to learn five new English words per day from the dictionary more than 20 years ago while working as a caregiver in a senior living facility. Leticia was only able to work with Spanish-speaking patients and understanding her English co-workers was a struggle. Since joining the ESL class last year, she is now working only with English speaking patients. Leticia’s goal is to enroll in college to study nursing.

Since enrolling at Modesto Junior College in 2009 as a non-English speaker, Esmeralda Felix has accomplished the difficult task of learning English and completing the challenging science and math classes required for the Respiratory Therapy program. She graduates in May at the top of her class and hopes to continue with the B.A. program offered at Modesto Junior College.

The Literacy Award will go to Ukraine born and raised Maryna Ninovska Learning who is now a LearningQuest student.  In 2015, she came to the U.S. on a work/study program. In Modesto, she studied with a LearningQuest volunteer tutor for 10 months and then enrolled in LearningQuest high school equivalency classes where she excelled in all subjects and earned her HSE in October.  LearningQuest’s transitional specialists helped her enroll in a vocational program focusing on business administration. Currently on the path to U.S. citizenship, Maryna wants to attend Modesto Junior College.

High School Diploma or Equivalency

Martha Venegas immigrated to the U.S. with her family in 2008 and quickly enrolled in ESL classes at El Concilio and Modesto Junior College. At age 48 she enrolled with LearningQuest to earn her high school equivalency diploma through the Spanish HSE program. With a family to care for, her journey was not easy.  After struggling with math, she scored at college-level readiness in the test and passed all her other subjects.  Now, with her HSE, Martha is currently enrolled in her second full-time semester at Modesto Junior College, majoring in Office Administration.

The Literacy Network, an affiliate of Stanislaus Partners in Education (SPIE), is a consortium of representatives from business, education, provider groups, government and private organizations, all with an interest in addressing literacy challenges in our community. The Network provides a forum in which to voice needs, accomplishments and information among members.

Learning Quest is a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide education to adults for a better tomorrow. Free or low-cost instruction in reading, writing, math and English is provided by a combination of staff and more than 250 volunteers. LearningQuest receives funding from public and private contracts and through donations from businesses and individual donors. Nearly 1,500 Stanislaus County adults were served by LearningQuest programs last year.