The library system in North Carolina's largest city is working with community groups to offer educational alternatives to Hispanic families.

Juan Vargas, an 81-year-old Peruvian immigrant, is taking advantage of the free weekly computer classes in Spanish that the Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County, or PLCMC, is offering.

"It's been a solution for us," Vargas, who added that thanks to the course he has "learned to use a computer and lose a little (of my) fear," told Efe.

According to Irania Patterson, a bilingual specialist with PLCMC tasked with giving the computer classes, it is important to offer this type of service outside the library branches.

"Instead of them coming to us, we go to them, setting up societies with the organizations that serve the community. The people have responded and the program has been a success," Patterson emphasized to Efe.

Near Vargas and his wife Mercedes, and seated in front of one of the 15 computers at the technology center, Salvadoran Jonny Torres works through a lesson and uses the computer to log onto the online social networks.

"Some libraries have had to cancel the classes due to a lack of budgeting, but here there are always classes, and we're seeing more people, of all ages, interested in learning new abilities that they use to improve themselves in their jobs," Patterson said.

The PLCMC, with 3.5 million visitors per year, has become something more than a "warehouse for books for Latinos."

Its branches are places of comfort, learning, consulting and, above all - according to Mercedes Vargas - places "to meet with other people, to interact, make friendships, educate yourself and participate in cultural and community activities."

For mothers like Maria Lorenza Morales, the PCLMC program Conexiones que Cuentan/Connections that Count has made a difference in the life of her 3-year-old daughter Shealy.

Through the reading of bilingual stories, musical and theater activities the coordinator of the initiative, Veronica Corral, helps kids under 5 become better prepared for school.

"For two years, I've been bringing my little girl (here) and I've seen the difference. Before, she didn't participate, she spoke very little. However, now she's increased her vocabulary and even has improved with her diction problem," Morales told Efe.

The libraries also offer the adult Hispanic population the chance to gather to share books and information as well as to learn English.

"We believe that when we offer cultural and educational services to the community they feel more motivated to come to the libraries and to take advantage of their programs. And that is what's happening," emphasized Meryle Leonard, the manager of PLCMC's programs.

Proof of that is heavy participation of Hispanics at the Con A de Arte (A is for Art) literary festival and El dia de los niños/El dia de los libros.

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