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2017 Scholar Joseph Estrada

A Small, Local Library Opens Up a World of Learning

Joseph Estrada is a voracious learner and reader. He calls the Embudo Valley Library the center of the community, but for him it was like a second home. The library was his safe haven were Joseph could learn and explore new things, conduct research, connect with others, grow and even escape into fiction and fantasy novels when life at home was overwhelming.

“This is the library I grew up with, the first place a book was read to me around age three or four,” he said. “I came here with my grandmother and friends. I blossomed here and wanted to read more and more.”

Beginning in first grade, Joseph set summer reading goals and finished 50 books six years in a row. For each 10 books, his name was entered into a drawing for a laptop. He won twice. Since 4th grade for eight years running he has read the entire seven-book Harry Potter series over Christmas break. The first new book he received as a gift from his aunt was proudly donated to the library for others to enjoy.

Much of Joseph’s free time was spent at the library assisting the librarian with daily operations and shelving books. It was also his favorite place to do homework.

“I actually prefer looking up things in books. I can read faster than on a computer and books are more accurate sources for research,” he said.

Joseph volunteered in the summer reading program to inspire young children to develop their interests and improve literacy, just as the library had served him years earlier. He helped to start and facilitate a teen program with safe activities, dances and sleepovers that kept his peers engaged in positive ways. In partnership with the adjacent community center and local radio station, he played teen music as a DJ on Saturdays.

In 2015, the Embudo Valley Library and Community Center of Dixon was selected as one of 10 recipients of the National Medal for Museum and Library Service. Joseph was invited to join the director at the White House to accept the prestigious award. Meeting Michelle Obama was a highlight of the trip and his life. He recalls her positive demeanor and unconditional acceptance. (Read a realted artice in the Santa Fe New Mexican.)

Joseph’s service to the community extended beyond the library. He’s proud of the time he spent volunteering at the local thrift store and food bank that help the church and community members in need. In 8th grade with a total of more than 300 community service hours, Joseph won the Spirit of Community Award recognizing his leadership.

“It’s meant a lot to me that you can make an impact by volunteering. It was my grandma who led me down that road of giving back to others,” he said. “Not only did I have fun but I saw how much it meant to other people.”

Education and Community Service Bring a Career into Focus

Being a mentor to a young boy in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program was a tough challenge for Joseph. The interaction and hearing about the boy’s trouble in school and difficult home life were painful reminders of the problems many kids face without needed support and guidance. Joseph knew he wanted to play a more active role in helping children and preventing child abuse, so he set his sights on a career in social work.

Realizing the expense of college and no support to pay for it, Joseph put every effort into taking advantage of the dual credit program offered by Peñasco High School and Northern New Mexico College. Tuition and books were free, so he only had to pay lab fees for the college-level courses.

“I went through all of the classes that Peñasco offered, including summer school,” he said, “so I needed to transfer to maintain full-time student status in high school to still go to Northern.”

As a junior and senior Joseph attended McCurdy Charter School in Santa Cruz, and earned an associates degree in liberal arts before his high school diploma.

This fall Joseph will attend New Mexico Highlands University to become a social worker with the support of a $15,000 Silver Scholarship from the Los Alamos Employees’ Scholarship Fund.

“I want to make an impact in New Mexico by being the voice for children in abusive households and make sure that every child lives in a safe and steady environment. This award will allow me to learn and pay my fullest attention to my coursework and not paying for college. I want to thank everyone who donated to this scholarship and who is involved in running it.”