This month's featured department: Legal
By Andrew Guy Jr.
Maria Powers has worked her way through the Houston Public Library system, starting as a library services specialist and then becoming a children’s librarian, assistant manager and eventually manager of several branches.
But it is her current gig – manager of the Scenic Woods Regional Library branch in northeast Houston – that makes Powers feel the most alive.
This is home.
“I grew up in this neighborhood,” Powers said. “(Working with the community) is easy for me. Of course, I left to go to school and work at other jobs, but I returned here because my heart is in northeast.”
As branch manager at Scenic Woods, Powers oversees a small staff in a neighborhood dependent on the branch’s services. Scenic Woods, Powers said, acts as more than a library. It is also a “multi-service” center, where community groups hold meetings, senior citizens take computer-literacy classes, and school children without Internet access at home do their homework.
Fonwood Elementary School sits mere feet away from the library’s front door, a short walk across the parking lot. Powers partners with the school to hold special events and classes at the library. Many of the students at Fonwood are black or Hispanic, and many of them don’t have computers at home, Powers said.
“I went to school there,” she said. “I know this area and what the kids around here need. I try and help out as much as I can.”
She tries to help out so much that she goes above what is required of her job, a trait that has been noticed.
“Awesome and patient to a fault is what comes to mind when I think of this extraordinary woman and her staff,” Carla Powe-Crawford wrote. “Friendly and courageous always, they’ve made my husband and me feel like family with their warm and welcome smiles and strong sense of helpfulness.”
Powers is shy and seems almost embarrassed at being told that people have said nice things about her work.
“I’ve been in situations where someone has come in and needed a lot of help with a project,” Powers said. “I try my best to help, walking them through research or helping them with e-mails or using the computer. People have joked with me, ‘Maria, you’re setting a precedent.’ I’m OK with that.”
Powers said she gets a lot of satisfaction from helping seniors become more computer literate.
“A lot of them would come in and not even know how to turn on a computer,” Powers said. “And by the time they leave, they’re sending out e-mails. It’s almost like you’re changing their lives with a click of a mouse.”
Powers attended Prairie View A&M, where she received a degree in political science. She said she has always been fascinated by politics and government. She once considered running for public office and also considered a career in the legal profession.
She was a substitute teacher for a while. Her first job with Library was in 1993.
“I feel like my job is to connect everybody,” Powers said. “Being from here, and knowing what is needed, I think I can do my part.”
She has had to do her part amidst budget tightening, which has affected all city departments. Mayor Annise Parker has challenged employees to trim budgets while maintaining high levels of service.
Powers has met the challenge. Her branch still has the same services and classes. But she has had to cut some programs. For example, every year the branch used to hold a fall festival for the neighborhood, complete with prizes, games, food and other activities. That was scrapped this year.
“Sometimes you just want to say thank you to the people in the neighborhood,” Powers said. “That’s what we tried to do with that, but it just wasn’t in the budget this time around.”
The mayor praised Powers for her management skills and thanked her for her hard work.
“Maria is an outstanding employee who exemplifies what we are trying to achieve,” Parker said. “Even in the midst of a budget crunch, Houston residents deserve the same level of service they have always received. I thank Maria for working hard to ensure that happens.”