Homa Naficy

Jennifer Kriksciun
It’s not too often you can tell people your boss is at the White House receiving an honor. Today I could do just that. Homa Naficy, our library’s Chief Adult Education Officer, was recognized along with 12 other librarians from across the nation as a Champion of Change. A Champion of Change. Like a Wheaties box. Like the Queen song. When I heard the news of Homa’s award weeks ago, I was unfamiliar with President Obama’s Champions of Change Program initiative. Nonetheless I knew that this honor signified great change in the role libraries are playing and that Hartford Public Library was leading the way.
If you don’t know who Homa is then just look around the American Place. She’s the reason the American Place is even here. It was her dream to create a place for new arrivals to come to get information about immigration, places to learn English, or how to become a U.S. citizen. Because of Homa’s vision, today the library offers citizenship preparation services, citizenship classes in a variety of languages, ESL classes, and a Cultural Navigator program to mentor new arrivals.  The space probably isn’t as meaningful as the people who have been affected by these programs. They come back and visit often. They bring gifts. They bring smiles. They send their family members and friends to the classes. That’s how we know these programs work.
Today, on a rainy Tuesday morning, Homa traveled down on the fast train to Washington D.C. with Matt Poland (HPL CEO),  Mary Tzambazakis (HPL CFO), and Nancy Caddigan, Intercultural Liaison.  Later that afternoon, there would be a formal panel discussion on immigrant integration and Homa would give a five minute presentation on her initiatives with immigrant civic engagement. On our end, the library was going to broadcast her panel discussion live on the big screen in the atrium.  It was a pretty big deal.
Homa sat first at the table. She looked lovely. Someone remarked that she was glowing. Homa spoke of the need to foster building trusting relationships through mentoring programs like the Cultural Navigator Program and community dialogues. She told a story of a community leader who had remarked that they never saw immigrants at community meetings (even though they knew they lived in the neighborhood), yet after some community dialogues, immigrants were coming together and getting involved. I’ve seen this happen, so I could feel Homa’s pride.

Later, during the question and answer session, the panel was touting the benefits of technology. Earlier, people had talked about using Nintendo Wiis and iPads and no one needs to convince me of their worth, believe me. But when Homa talked about the value of the human touch. The American Place provides the human touch. Patrons come with all sorts of questions and needs, from the merely confused (and confusing!) to the serious and, sometimes, even the desperate. We give them whatever time and help we can. That’s part of the human touch. But the most important part is what they give us in return …..