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In the books

In the books: Lompoc Library Director Sarah Bleyl receives Valley of Flowers Peace Prize

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The Valley of the Flowers Peace Prize is set to spend 2018 in a location that, fortunately, has plenty of shelf space.

Sarah Bleyl, the director of the Lompoc Public Library System, was named the recipient of the eighth annual award Sunday at the conclusion of an hourlong ceremony at the Valley of the Flowers United Church of Christ in Vandenberg Village.

Bleyl, who was among 11 contenders for the honor, was nominated to represent the entire Lompoc Library System, which has grown tremendously in its program offerings and outreach since Bleyl took over as director in October 2015.

Bleyl said after Sunday’s ceremony that her nomination and the recognition of the work being done at the library was a “complete surprise.”

As for actually receiving the Peace Prize: “I have no words,” she said.

Bleyl was presented with the 2-feet-tall, 24-pound Peace Prize by the Rev. Ron Wiley, who had kept the prize at Grace Temple Missionary Baptist Church since winning it last year. Upon receiving the copper sculpture, Bleyl reflected on the importance of libraries in her own life during a brief speech that she later said was off the cuff.

“I grew up very, very poor and I was the first person in my family to go to college and then to get an advanced degree,” she told the audience of about 100 people at the ceremony. “Libraries are what helped me get to this point. I couldn’t have done it without education. I realized right away when I was young that the only way I had to live a better life than my parents was … through school.

“I’m just so grateful,” she added. “Thank you so much.”

The accomplishments within the Lompoc Library System that led to Bleyl capturing the Peace Prize include the growth of the summer reading program from 900 to 1,900 participants, a series of video game events, bilingual story time for preschoolers, Movie Monday, the doubling of the Homework Club from one to two days per week, and the development of a social media presence for the libraries.

The Lompoc libraries have also recently introduced several clubs, including a crafts club, a knitting and crocheting club, two coloring clubs (one for kids and one for adults), a Lego club and a book club at the Village Library.

“The library is important, especially to youth, so that was one of my priorities when I came in, to see where we were at and where we could set goals and grow the programs to help other people and other families,” Bleyl said Sunday. “Really, we’ve succeeded past my wildest imagination.”

Joining Bleyl from the Lompoc Library System at Sunday’s ceremony were Youth Services Manager Xochitl Rocha and Rachell Frazian, who runs the Charlotte’s Web Mobile Children’s Library, also called the bookmobile.

“It’s because of them,” Bleyl said of the library’s success, referring to her staff. “I’m the director, but I have such a great support staff. They’re the ones who come up with the great ideas. We just work really well together.”

Bleyl’s win capped a ceremony that included recognitions for all 11 nominees, live music performed by the married duo Val and Al, and quotes about peace that were read from several community members.

The other nominees included:

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  • Shawndel Malcolm, an advocate for homeless people in the Lompoc community;
  • Jenelle Osborne, a Lompoc City Councilwoman;
  • Steve Straight, president of the Lompoc Unified School District board of education;
  • Angel Ramos, the coordinator of the Lompoc Food Pantry for Catholic Charities;
  • Chuck Madson, a director at Coast Valley Substance Abuse Treatment Centers;
  • Sabrina Ross, a victims' advocate with the Lompoc Police Department;
  • Tyler Stuart, a mentor and founder of a nonprofit that aims to aid local teens and young adults;
  • An unnamed DACA recipient who has excelled under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program;
  • James Hall, a local attorney and community volunteer; and
  • Teresa Acosta, a youth sports volunteer and advocate.

All of the nominees, except possibly the unnamed DACA recipient, were in attendance Sunday. The DACA recipient, who has been referred to as “Martin” since being nominated, was granted anonymity, so his presence was unknown to the public.

The Valley of the Flowers Peace Prize is given out each January in recognition for the previous year. That means Bleyl is the 2017 recipient, a feat that will be commemorated with an engraved plate alongside the previous seven winners on the base of the Peace Prize sculpture, which remains in the possession of each recipient until their successor is announced.

Nominations from the community are sought for the award, which is given out by a committee comprised of members of the Valley of the Flowers United Church of Christ. It is meant to honor “people who have contributed to the peace, harmony and understanding of the Lompoc community,” according to the committee.

Before handing over the prize, Wiley reflected on his past year with the award and thanked all of this year’s nominees for their efforts.

“This has been a very exciting year and it’s been my pleasure to have this Peace Prize displayed at my church,” he said.

Bleyl said she was looking forward to finding a place for the prize in the Lompoc Library.

More than anything, though, she said she was grateful for the support she’s received from the community since arriving in Lompoc in 2015. She had previously worked as an assistant library director in Kern County.

“Lompoc is an amazing community,” she said. “I’ve never, ever been part of a community quite like this. They’re (such) wonderful, supportive people and I love being here.”

Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.

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