Brenda Miller


The American Place at the Hartford Public Library — which helps immigrants and refugees resettling in the Hartford area — has been awarded the 2021 Partners in International Education Award from the Council on Social Work Education’s Commission on Global Social Work Education for its innovations in education for international social work.

Rebecca Thomas, a social work professor at UConn and director of the school’s Center for International Social Work Studies, nominated The American Place for the honor, saying it has served as a “rich environment for field placements” for students seeking degrees in social work.

“Their one stop shop which is not stigmatizing has been a rich experience for students learning about global issues at a local space,” Thomas, who is chair of the commission, wrote in her nomination letter to the CSWE. “One does not have to travel far to be international social work. “Students develop case management skills as they work with clients, learn about regions of the world where immigrants and refugees come from, learn to connect services to these individuals and also learn policies and advocacy.”

The American Place was established in 2000 and is run by Homa Naficy. It offers immigration information and resources for learning English and preparing for U.S. citizenship. In 2019 Naficy was selected as the winner of the American Library Association’s I Love My Librarian Award.

“Her efforts in Hartford are legendary; she has touched the lives of thousands of people and barely takes a breath before embarking on the next project or program that will undoubtedly help thousands more,” HPL President and CEO Bridget Quinn said.

During the COVID-19 pandemic many services were shifted online and The American Place provided homebound seniors with tablets and Wi-Fi hot spots to avoid isolation through its Surfing Seniors program.

The award from the Virginia-based council will be presented at the CSWE’s annual meeting in Orlando, Florida, in November.


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We Congratulate HPL Math Wiz Tiffany Cooper for Receiving Her Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting from Albertus Magnus College!

You are a Weaver Beaver, can you say that five times fast?
I played basketball my freshman year! I graduated in 1986, and I’ve gone to all my class reunions. Go Beavers!

Did young Tiffany always want to be an accountant?
When I was little, all I had for toys were calculators and cash registers. I’ve always loved numbers. I love math, I love analytics. I’ll analyze anything. I was quiet in school, I grew up fast and was more mature than others.

Your path to getting this degree was not a straight one.
It took me 12 years to earn this degree. I started by attending Southern Connecticut State University but left after one year. While working, at Cigna, I decided to go back to school and earn a college degree. While raising my two kids I would take a couple of credits whenever I could.

That was some accomplishment- you are strong to persevere for so long.
I grew up surrounded by strong women that were examples for me. My mother was 16 when she had me and my grandmother raised me and took care of me. I had such a strong support system supporting me. I felt their love and encouragement with me always. My mom went back to school as an adult worked hard and not only graduated college but went on to earn two masters – one in education and one in counseling.

Your children are now grown up.
My son Justin works with numbers and my daughter Taylor is an artist. I have one left brain and one right brain- both supportive!

After 12 years- what does this degree mean to you?
My degree doesn’t define me. Society puts you in a place where you need to prove yourself, and a degree is that proof.
I am a life-long-learner. I realize I know little about Black history. I didn’t learn about Emmett Till until I was in college. Now that I’ve come into a place where I understand myself, who I am, I’d like to know more about the struggle of my people. I volunteer at my church, Phillips Metropolitan C.M.E. Church, and help at the local shelters. Together with my children and our families I deliver supplies to local shelters regularly and it’s now a tradition in our family. We pool our money and do Blessing Bags.

Thank you Tiffany, for your critical behind the scenes work at the Library and for being one heck of an example of what hard work and tenacity can bring you. Well done!


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Lina Osho-Williams is the Youth and Family Services Manager for HPL. She holds a Masters in Early Childhood Ed. and received a MS from Simmons College (Library and Information Science) this past year.

Tell me about your journey to the United States.

I was born in Sierra Leone. I left my country in 1997, during a brutal civil war. Along with my 3 year-old daughter, Olayinka, my mother, my brother and my cousin, we boarded a boat to Gambia with no idea of what to expect. .

The journey by boat was a nightmare. No clean drinking water. The boat was overloaded and there was a terrible storm at sea. My daughter Olayinka was so dehydrated I was petrified if she stayed on the boat one more day, she would have died. When we arrived in Gambia, the boat was met by the Red Cross. The experience was so horrifying that I have not been on a boat since.

Gambia is the home country of my father and we settled there for a few years. Being multilingual, I was able to teach for the 2 years we lived there. In 1999, we came to the states, sponsored by the Interfaith Refugee Ministry; Interfaith found a sponsor for us in Hartford – the Warburton Congregational Community Church.

You have a college degree in English and Sociology from Sierra Leone and your first job was at TJ Maxx.

I didn’t know the currency and I was doing a cashier’s job! But I caught on quick!

And you moved on quickly.

I began teaching preschool through a position in the Early Childhood Education Dept. with the Community Renewal Team. It was through this position I met the HPL Children and Families Director Debra Perry. I started at the Blue Hills Branch and moved to the Downtown Library two years later.

How has working at the Library shaped you?

I have evolved (since coming to the library), I’ve grown in what I do. I know people had doubts, they didn’t know me, I sensed that. But I did the work, I grew. I owe so much to my mentor Debra, she led me through!

Tell me what you love about working at the Library.

I love working with families. For me, being a refugee, coming from another country, I understand where they are coming from and can connect immediately. I’ve been there, I understand.

My passion is with teaching the little ones. There is something just precious about working with the little ones. I love the continuum – working with them as small children and then seeing them grow and come back as adults, seeing their beautiful potential being realized.

Talk about beautiful potential – you and your family have what you describe as the “American Dream”

10 years ago, we bought our first home in Manchester. My 3-year-old daughter Olayinka I was so scared I was going to lose on that awful boat ride? She now holds a bachelor’s degree in Communications and works for Hartford Healthcare. And our son, Olatunji will be attending Northwestern University to work on a degree in Journalism.

Working with the little ones, you’ve got to have a favorite book to read out loud

Elephant and Piggie is a book series for early readers by Mo Willems. I love the illustrations, the positive message, and especially the rapport and friendship of the two main characters

Mo Willems says “One of the ways you grow is by starting over” All of us at the Library are so grateful to Lina and her bravery to start over in the United States.

We are all richer because of her presence in our lives.

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All of us at the Library could not be prouder of Graciela for being selected by Southside Institution Neighborhood Alliance’s REACH Committee to receive the 2021 Neighborhood Service Award. It’s great to see her being recognized for what we have known along- Grace is pretty extraordinary.

We’ve had the privilege of getting to know Graciela for the past 15 years and – in some ways since she was 12 – and now we want you to get to know her as well.

Born in the Bronx, Graciela made her way to Hartford via a short stay in Miami. When she got to Hartford, one of the first places she felt at home was the Park Library. Her first summer job, when she was 14, was at Dwight Library. Today she is HPL’s Park Library branch manager and is currently in the MILS program at Syracuse University. Graciela hopes to graduate in 2022.

What is it that draws you to our Library? What makes Hartford Public Library (HPL) special?

“I find HPL to be an amazing place, very progressive and rich with resources. My time spent here has been a top-notch working experience.

When I moved to Hartford, the Library offered me a welcoming space with access to many resources. To me, and I hope to others too, our Library is a beacon of hope and I believe the new Park Library will be a catalyst for change in the neighborhood.”

It seems like the library is in your blood and now in your family’s blood as well.

“My kids, Nashalee and Lukas visit the branch regularly and are a big part of my journey at the library. I hope I can inspire them with my passion and work ethic. After watching “Beyond Words” (HPL’S annual fundraiser) this year, Lukas told me wanted to work here! He was thrilled by YOUmedia and all that he could do there.”

I got my first official job at the Library while I was attending UCONN and supporting myself and my daughter. I didn’t want to be that statistic. I want to be the person who can model other outcomes.”

What Library program do you love?

“I love our Summer Learn series. I love what it brings to our community, to our neighbors, and how it livens the downtown.”

What is the most memorable question a library customer has asked you?

“Can you help me, I have been diagnosed with cancer and my last dying wish is to acquire my U.S. citizenship.” I referred the customer to HPL’s The American Place, and they followed up with her. I hadn’t realized how libraries are able to help customers with even their last dying wish, and yet we do. Public libraries really do impact peoples’ lives in many unimaginable ways.”

If you could be any literary character, who would you be?

“Definitely Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. it’s one of my all-time favorite books, and the movie is amazing. I could not agree more with Dorothy when she says, “there’s no place like home”. She teaches us the meaning of true friendship, family, and empathy. “

If what the Wizard of Oz once said is true, “A heart is not judged by how much you love; but by how much you are loved by others”, then you, Grace, have one huge heart.

Congratulations on your much deserved award from SINA and thank you for being a beacon of light to all who walk into our Library!


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