By Katie Bohannon, News Editor
Rachel Cole’s incredible journey at the Gadsden Public Library began in March of 2017 at the front circulation desk. Working as a library clerk, she dealt with a variety of people on a daily basis, helping patrons check books in-and-out and discover reads based upon their interests.
When the teen coordinator position became available in October 2019, Cole applied and found herself in a new position at the GPL. She believes that her promotion arrived at the perfect time as a blessing from God considering what was to come. When Cole’s mother retired on October 31, Cole began her full-time position on November 1. Since then, Cole worked throughout the entire COVID-19 shutdown and her mother’s recent retirement proved an added help with her seven-year-old son, Charlie – two things that would not have been possible without prayer and perfect timing.
Cole continued working diligently at the library until another position became available in July, when former Teen Zone Manager Nicole Tudor acquired a position with the Gadsden City Schools System as a media specialist. After applying and interviewing, Cole found herself in another area of promotion as the new Teen Zone Manager. But before she began, GPL Director Craig Scott challenged her to perform a task she had never attempted before: he asked her to write a grant.
With the assistance of Beautiful Rainbow Café Director Chip Rowan, Cole drafted a grant that proposed a greenhouse and a seed lending library to the Coosa Valley Resource Conservation and Development Council. While Cole initially budgeted $7,500 for the greenhouse, heirloom seeds and seed lending library, the council met her with an unexpected and exciting counter offer. With an amended proposal, Cole not only received her requested budget, but was awarded the full grant amount of $9,000.
The GPL will administer the $9,000 to manifest Cole’s greenhouse and seed lending library project, which took root in October. After exploring potential projects for the grant, Cole discovered the seed lending library and greenhouse as a beneficial resource for her students, the library and the community.
One key factor to Cole’s project is the addition of heirloom seeds, or seeds that have not been cross-pollinated to produce hybrid plants. Heirloom seeds are carefully grown and saved, often passed from generation to generation due to their value and worth. The heirloom seeds featured in the GPL’s seed lending library will produce plants native to the community that will flourish in local conditions.
Cole noted that all the seeds in the lending library will be thoroughly researched to provide patrons with a backstory on each plant. The term ‘lending’ refers to the loan and donate nature of the library, where patrons can take seeds for their own gardens and donate seeds back to the library for others. When gardeners grow plants with seeds from the library, they can submit photos of their results to display as an outlet of inspiration for fellow planters.
Cole’s own passion for gardening inspired the project she oversees at the library today. Cole understands the significant lessons gardening teaches planters and welcomes the fond memories the process creates. For Cole, gardening is more than growing plants – it emerges as an act that grows moments to be cherished for a lifetime.
“My grandmother and grandfather had a farm, and when they downsized and moved into a smaller house, they had a huge garden in their backyard,” said Cole. “I remember digging up weeds with my grandmother in her front flower bed. That’s such a good memory to me, and I do that with my son. I love gardening when I’m with my son. I want to share that with the teens here, because I love them like my own kids. [Gardening] is so exciting to me because you get to grow something and enjoy it…it’s the fruit of your labor. I want them to feel that excitement that I feel when I see [something I’ve grown.]”
The fruits and vegetables grown in the greenhouse will supply the Beautiful Rainbow Café with ingredients for meals year-round. Cole’s partnership with Rowan is an aspect of the project she looks forward to, noting that Rowan’s impressive culinary leadership will provide an excellent tool for the students (and herself) to learn. Rowan’s students will collaborate with Cole’s throughout the year, gardening and cooking together. Cole and Rowan also welcome aboard Owls Hollow Farm’s Lisa Gallardo, whose own experience with successfully cultivating fresh food will accompany them on their journey.
Cole’s grand vision for the GPL’s Teen Zone stretches far beyond the greenhouse. Though the greenhouse and seed lending library might serve as the catalyst of a new era, Cole imagines clubs that branch from this project and a teen zone where her students learn, grow and achieve their goals. She plans to incorporate a garden club in addition to regular programming and to develop several peer-led discussion groups where every inch of the fourth-floor space is utilized.
But more than anything, Cole hopes her influence can shine brightly in her student’s lives as she creates a safe space of hope, imagination and inspiration.
“I want my students to know that they’re loved,” said Cole. “I want them to learn from me. They’ve seen me as teen coordinator and now they see me as the department head. I want them to learn that you can succeed and meet your goals and conquer what you want to conquer and accomplish what you want to accomplish. I want them to see a leader in me…someone that loves and cares for people.”
During the COVID-19 closure, the GPL renovated the fourth floor into the Teen Hive, which will still provide the same services as the Teen Zone but with double the space for students. The floor now offers a projector for gaming, TV for movies, computers and a large reading area for teens to enjoy. The GPL recently hired a new teen coordinator who Cole will work closely with on current and upcoming projects.
Cole discussed the overwhelming support she receives from her family, friends and her fellow GPL staff members, who she considers so much more than her coworkers.
“We’re a family at the library,” said Cole. “Everybody here is very supportive. If you set yourself a goal, people try and help you meet that goal. We have a great support system here. We check on each other and we help each other, even after someone leaves. It’s a great place to work. I appreciate Craig because he encourages and encourages and encourages. He lifts people up and helps you meet goals that you set for yourself. He really is a great boss. When you spend eight hours a day, five days a week somewhere, you get close. I love everybody I work with.”
While the support Cole receives from others encourages her immensely, one major lesson she learned during her years at the library she discovered within herself. As she grew and flourished at the library, Cole realized that her goals would not fall into her lap – she had to make the decision to strive towards success. But before anything could manifest, she had to take the first step herself and recognize her true worth.
“I’ve learned personally that I’m capable,” said Cole. “I’m capable of being successful and I’m able to work hard and get where I am. Because of perseverance, hard work and prayer – that’s how I earned this position. You’ve got to get up in the morning and decide I’m going to conquer today. Don’t worry about tomorrow. Show people what you’re worth, show people that you can do the job, because nobody else is going to do it for you. You’ve got to do it yourself.”
From a part-time reception clerk to teen coordinator to the full-time Teen Zone manager, Cole represents an unwavering spirit and the limitless possibilities that arise when dedication enters the equation. Cole emerges as an example for her students of what doors will open if someone simply knocks and what can grow if someone will take the time and effort required to plant. With her caring nature and loving heart, Cole combines her innovative ideas with her determination to witness her students succeed to create an environment where her teens can excel, thrive and achieve all their aspirations in the future.
“I think there are so many moments you can have in a garden with another person,” said Cole. “You bond, you grow together, you dig together, you do all these things together then you get to celebrate together at the end. I want the kids to know that all of their hard work that they put into everything they do they can compare it to the hard work they put into the garden. All of this hard work that you’re putting into school, you will be rewarded for that. I want [the garden] to carry over into life. They can look back and say, ‘Ms. Rachel was right.’ I look forward to bonding with the kids over plants and being able to talk about life. They’re great kids; I love them.”
Cole plans to have the greenhouse completed and operational by December.