Last month, Cardiff-by-the-Sea resident Jenna Houts contacted The Coast News from the small, rural town of Jose Fassardi, Paraguay, where she has been a Peace Corps volunteer since August 2009.
A 2002 graduate of the San Dieguito Academy, Houts wanted to reach out to The Coast News readers to solicit financial support for a community library at the local technical high school which, for the first time, would enable school children to connect with the world, acquire research and computer skills, and lay a foundation for a higher education.
Since the article ran in the last issue Houts reports that her goal of raising $2,000 for a Small Projects Assistance Grant through the Peace Corps was met. She expects to receive the money in the next few weeks and begin buying shelves, computers, tables and chairs and the initial books.
“For the next article I’d like to encourage people to contact me via e-mail if they want to donate cash or in kind,” she wrote in an e-mail. “Educational Spanish books, especially a set of encyclopedias, or refurbished or new computers, laptops or desktops — they would all be at the top of my wish list!”
Once up and running, Houts says the library will have six large book shelves filled with Spanish language books, two computers, two printers, two computer desks, table and chair sets for adults and children, office supplies, curtains and educational materials to decorate the walls.
Future goals include accessing the Internet, securing funds from the municipality for a full-time librarian, and continuing to solicit donations from local and international organizations to pay for more books, computers and other multi-media technology.
“We are starting small but have high hopes the library will continue to grow for years after my departure,” she said. “I have requested a follow-up volunteer to take my place in Fassardi in August to continue working with the library and the community.”
Houts will be leaving Paraguay in August, stopping in Cardiff-by-the-Sea to visit her family, then going on to South Korea where she’ll join her boyfriend as an English language teacher.
“The Peace Corps motto that it’s ‘the toughest job you will ever love’ couldn’t be more true,’” she said. “I expected it to be challenging. I expected to improve my Spanish. I expected to love my job. And it has been all of these things. But I never expected to fall in love.”
Houts’ boyfriend is Adam Montgomery from Tennessee.
“In this small, forgotten corner of the world I met and fell in love with the love of my life,” she said. “He is also a Peace Corps volunteer and came to Paraguay eight months before me. And wouldn’t you know it he is a bee keeper volunteer! I fell in love with Peace Corps because of a man who told me stories about bees and then I joined the Peace Corps and fell in love with a man who works with bees.”
?Even though she plans to continue her career overseas, Houts admits to having pangs of homesickness — particularly for Cardiff beach, Las Olas Mexican Restaurant and the San Dieguito Academy.
“Spanish teacher Mrs. McCluskey was truly an inspirational teacher and taught me to love the Spanish language,” Houts said. “I owe a large part of my chosen career path to her.”
When contacted by The Coast News, McCluskey said she wasn’t surprised to learn of Houts’ Peace Corps service.
“Jenna Houts is one of many of my wonderful students who inspire me to come to work every day and share my passion for the Spanish language and culture,” McCluskey said. “How fortunate are all of the people who come in contact with her as her energy and passion for her fellow man are endless. I am so very proud to have worked with this amazing young woman.”
For updated information about Houts’ community library project, visit jennahouts.blogspot.com or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.