Enriqueta Gonzalez has a new air of confidence.

Six months ago, she started taking free English classes offered at the Woods Memorial Branch Library. Gonzalez can now understand and speak better English, which has allowed her to engage with more people with confidence and security and consider finding a better job.

The English classes have continued to see an increase in demand and positive response from the community.

Last year, classes offered at the 10 library branches served 1,140 students from more than 45 countries, said Jennifer Stanowski, program director for Literacy Connects. About 70 percent of those students come from Spanish-speaking countries.

The classes are a partnership between Pima County Public Library and Literacy Volunteers of Tucson, one of five programs of Literacy Connects. The literacy group, which operates the English Language Acquisition for Adults, is a non-profit organization that recruits and trains English-language tutors.

“The library is very appreciative of this partnership,” said Ingrid Trebisky, assistant manager at the Woods Memorial Library. “These classes have been great for the library as well as the community.”

Beyond the practical benefits of stronger language skills, the classes have a significant impact on the students’ self-esteem. Stanowski said 97 percent of the students reported a boost in their sense of self-worth.

“It’s amazing to see how people change when they feel confident with their language skills,” said Stanowski. “At the end of the day, it only strengthens our community.”

The library was awarded a $15,000 American Dream grant last year to continue operating the literacy programs. These funds complement Literacy Connects’ fundraising and library funds to support the free classes.

Recently, the northwest Nanini Library branch added a new conversation class to meet a growing demand. However, Stanowski said the number of participants has been increasing over the past years at all locations.

The key to the program’s success, Stanowski said, is providing people who want to improve their skills with easy access to classes.

Gonzalez takes classes at two different locations. Her tutor at the Woods Memorial Library, Holly Lachowicz, said the volunteer work is rewarding as she watches students grow in confidence and ability.

“They seem to be enjoying it, and at the same time it’s filling a need they have in their lives to better communicate with their families and the community,” she said.

This is Lachowicz’s second year. She is a retired bilingual kindergarten teacher who wanted to continue teaching.

Although many of the volunteers have teaching experience, it is not a requirement.

Literacy Connects provides them with 12 hours of training and an apprenticeship period. In return, volunteers make commitment to the program for at least nine months.

“We need quality volunteers to be able to expand,” said Stanowski.

For more information on becoming a volunteer, call 520-882-8006. Classes are offered in churches, schools and community service in addition to the 10 library branches. To see a full list of sites and their schedules, visit LiteracyConnects.org.

Gabriela Diaz is a University of Arizona journalism student who is an apprentice at the Star. Contact her at starapprentice@azstarnet.com