Elena Lara: ‘I think passion is contagious’
When Elena Lara, 52, talks about one of the projects she’s involved with, you almost have to take a few steps back to listen.
The enthusiasm she displays along with the smile she flashes is invigorating.
As head of outreach services for the Round Lake Area Public Library, a position she’s held since 2007, the Lakemoor resident has served as a bridge between people in the community and
library events and programs.
Lara has had to mold what outreach services means in Round Lake. The position didn’t exist before she came on board and being bilingual has been a vital part of her job because the library serves many Hispanic patrons.
“Sometimes [Hispanic] parents don’t know how to get involved. I see many who come to the library and they don’t know about events that are happening in their kids’ school or in the community,” Lara said. “I feel that I’ve created a trust with them and they come here for whatever they need. I can cross over so many boundaries, being bilingual.”
For that type of contribution, she was recognized last year and presented with the Bilingual Parents Advisory Committee of Round Lake’s excellence award.
Jim DiDonato, executive director of the library, said Lara is “always outgoing and willing to help out.” He’s thrilled with her work and is proud of her, he said.
A program Lara helped implement at the library is the adult literacy program. It introduced her to volunteerism in the community, she said.
The Family Literacy Program, in partnership with the College of Lake County teaches literacy skills to parents who are learning English.
The unique part of the program is that their children, 6 years and under, can come as well to learn.
Lara not only helps by creating programming for the library alongside staff, but like the little bird, Lara is great at spreading the word.
“We always have trust that Elena will put out a quality program and that she’ll go out into the community and promote it,” DiDonato said.
Lara will tell you that the first hat she puts on, and one she never takes off, is the one she wears as the library promoter. But that’s not the only hat she wears.
She spends her time volunteering in organizations that help her community be a better place, and as she likes to say, enrich residents’ lives.
One of those organizations is the Bridging Everyone’s Strengths Together Coalition, where she acts as president and networks with other local agencies to provide events and programs for the community.
Last year, the coalition won a governor’s hometown award for volunteerism.
“It was exciting and it felt good because we all work hard,” Lara said. “It’s not just one person, it’s many that make the coalition work.”
Lara is also involved in the Round Lake area’s radio station.
As a board member of WRLR 98.3, Lara helps pass along information and feedback on events that she gathers by being in touch with people in the community, mainly through the library, but also as a volunteer.
Last year, she was a recipient of the station’s GEO Awards for her time and contributions.
One particular aspect she enjoys is going on their remote events, such as town parades.
“It’s fun when people recognize you and say hello,” Lara said.
Bish Krywko, president of the station said, “Elena is well deserving of the [ForeFronts] award for all her various involvement with and in the community. And to top that off she is just one great, amazing human being; as sweet as Mary Poppins and as sincere as Mother Teresa. If only the world could clone her.”
Lara might like that. She admits sometimes she doesn’t have enough time to do all the activities she’d like to do. Even so, she likes to see what’s out there.
Two years ago she began taking part in the Lake County Forest Preserves bilingual nature hikes and in no time, she was helping lead them.
“It’s so interesting how children and even adults embrace nature and learn about animals and plants in the park,” Lara said.
She has fun hiking with the families that participate in the program and said she’ll continue to do it.
While she enjoys taking part in her community by either spreading the word or in leadership roles, it is other people’s passion that attracts her to devoting her time and energy into volunteerism.
“I like to see the passion that people have for what they’re doing. When they bring it to a group it ignites everybody. I have that [passion] and when I see it in others, I feel connected.
“It’s like when you light a candle and then you light 10 more, it lights brighter that way,” Lara said.
“You know how they say that laughter is contagious, well I think passion is contagious.”