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'There's no end to what she does': Groton library volunteer wins state award

Groton — When volunteering with the Groton Public Library, Pamela Tankard may be found weeding garden beds, picking up trash along the sides of the building or organizing the book sale room.

Or she may be reading to seniors, encouraging children with their art projects, or speaking up for the library at town budget hearings.

"There's no end to what she does," said Kimmerle Balentine, librarian and volunteer coordinator.

Tankard, a Groton resident who has volunteered at the library since 2014, recently won a state award: the Edith B. Nettleton Award from the Connecticut Library Association in recognition of "an individual who has demonstrated an outstanding record of volunteer service to their library," according to the association.

Director of Library Services Jennifer Miele said Tankard hasn't turned down a challenge yet and will rearrange her schedule at the last minute to help out the library.

"She really loves the town of Groton, and it shows," Miele said.

Miele said the library has a well-rounded and knowledgeable staff, but volunteers like Tankard are critical for libraries, which have many duties, to expand the library's representation in the community. Volunteers help both the library and the nonprofits and day care centers in the community that need the library's support, allowing the library to provide more support for reading programs and community services.

For Tankard, an avid reader and photographer with a good sense of humor, volunteering at the library is fun and interesting and a good outlet for her talents.

While growing up on a farm in a rural area in the Chesapeake Bay area, Tankard did not have a library anywhere near her home, but a book mobile would come by once a month with books from a library in another county. The book supply was limited, and Tankard said she gives her mother a lot of credit for subscribing to Time Magazine and the Saturday Evening Post, which is how Tankard learned how to read.

Tankard remembers taking out her first book —  an illustrated book called "Paddlewings" about a penguin's adventures on the Galapagos Islands — from a small library in the basement of her grammar school.

"It was the first book I ever had my little hands on and I loved it," she said. After years of searching, she finally found a copy of the book in a thrift store a couple of years ago.

Tankard moved to Groton at age 14 when her father took a job at Electric Boat, and she graduated in 1970 from Fitch High School. After working a myriad of jobs, including driving a cab, painting people's homes and at a local answering service, she became a public safety dispatcher in Waterford. As a dispatcher for 22 years, she said, she enjoyed helping people and making them know she was really listening to them.

While working part-time in the recreation department at the Fairview-Odd Fellows Home after retiring as a dispatcher, Tankard met Balentine through some of the programs she was doing in the community and Tankard began volunteering at the library.

Balentine wrote in her letter of recommendation: "When seeking a volunteer to assist me with these active and well-attended programs, I knew I needed someone with patience, humor and empathy. Pam has all those qualities and more."

Tankard volunteers with a Senior Stories program to visit and engage with seniors through books, poetry, music, art, trivia and jokes. Tankard said she enjoys sparking excitement, smiles and laughter and learning about the seniors, from their love of fishing or maybe one has a story from their younger days of climbing a tree and falling out of it that they can all laugh about.

"I really enjoy that — a really deep communication," she said. "That's what I like and you can really do that with books. You can really tailor your choice of books for certain audiences."

She continued to interact with seniors during the pandemic though trivia, poetry and music on Zoom.

Tankard, who helps with programs such as bringing books to preschool children or teaching children about art, also loves to connect with children, and their imagination, excitement and wonder, and find their potential: "I know they have potential, every single one of them, and they have their own individual dreams and individual strengths and weaknesses," she said.

While the children create art during the library's Art Smart program, she will go around to talk to them and compliment their work or help them if they need more paint.

She also fills the library's "book nooks" around town with books, audiobooks and movies from the library.

Tankard, a passionate photographer who never goes anywhere without her cellphone so she can always take a photo, takes photos for the library and captures events, such as the annual Bumpers and Books, where families dress up in costumes and decorate the trunks of their cars in the theme of different books and children go trick-or-treating.

Through her volunteerism, Tankard said she is able to touch people emotionally — whether through a hug, a smile, holding somebody's hand or a joke.

She said she listens to the people she meets and really learns something from them. She said it's important to "really get to know them, really listen to them and really learn something from them."

Whether interacting with seniors or guiding and encouraging kids in their art project, Tankard always makes the people around her feel good, Balentine said. "She's got a way with people. Everyone loves her. She makes everyone feel comfortable and I think excited about what's going on and she brings the enthusiasm."

Balentine wrote in her letter of recommendation that Tankard is a "roll-up-your-sleeves kind of volunteer."

"Her enthusiasm is contagious," Balentine wrote. "Her dedication is laudable. I wish I had a hundred more volunteers like her!"

k.drelich@theday.com

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