Sandra Tauler is a woman whose mind is constantly focused on the future. In her own words: “I am always running to the future because I am always thinking ahead.”
In her work for the city of Calexico, she has to concentrate on the future. It’s how she prepares programming to meet the needs of residents of all ages in a city where the population tops 35,000 and is growing.
Tauler is the city’s community services director, a role that has her in charge of the Calexico library, cultural arts center and recreational services. She and her staff serve thousands year-round. Non-stop work that requires managing the city’s resources, securing grants and donations and developing new ways to serve the Valley’s most southern city nestled up against the border with Mexico.
She has a mission that guides her efforts. “One of my biggest goals is to make sure that no one says there is nothing to do in Calexico because there is a lot to do and much of it is for free or costs very little.”
At the time of this story, Tauler and her staff are preparing for the summer recreation program when children need services most and in a region where temperatures soar over 110 degrees, they also need a cool and safe place to play.
Hundreds of kids will take part in the city’s summer reading program, many spending their days at the library. Hundreds more will take part in recreational activities from indoor basketball, dodgeball and volleyball to sewing and other arts and crafts. Arts and crafts mean a great deal to Tauler as she is something of a crochet expert.
Under her leadership, the city also has an active program for teens as well as adults, in particular seniors, like offering senior dances and bingo.
“I like to say we serve people age zero to one hundred in so many facets,” she said during an interview from her office inside the Calexico library, named the Camarena Memorial Library, after the Calexico native and DEA agent, Enrique “Kiki” Camarena, who lost his life in the fight against drug cartels. “Every child and adult will have their own interests. That’s why I am constantly trying to find ways to meet their needs.”
Tauler, 58, a mother and grandmother, has served the city for 27 years. It is a job she loves, in part, because she is serving the community where she was raised.
She is the daughter of migrant parents. Though she grew up in Calexico, her family—her mother, father and four siblings, traveled California following the crops. Her family even resided for a time in San Diego while her father worked at a shipyard there.
The moving stopped when her father started his own trucking business in Calexico. Both her parents drove trucks. Her mother, who worked as a teacher’s aide for the Calexico Unified School District, would help drive on weekends and during the summer.
Settling for good in Calexico meant Tauler could complete her high school years in the city. She graduated from Vincent Memorial High School in 1977.
A self-described book worm and nerd, Tauler said there was never a question as to whether she would attend college. Her mother made it clear.
“My mother told me there was no other plan,” Tauler said. “She told me she did not want me to be dependent on anyone. She didn’t want me to go through the hardships she did. She wanted more for me.”
Tauler became the first member of her family to graduate college. Her sister, a counselor at Brawley Union High School, also became a college graduate.
Beginning her college experience at Imperial Valley College, Tauler set out to be a civil engineer. She had always enjoyed math, and was excited at the thought of building roads and bridges someday, but she also had another interest.
As a child, her mother would take her to the old Calexico library in what is now the Carnegie Technology Center. She loved her time in the library and loved reading. That interest in the library stuck with her, and from 1982 to 1986, she worked as a clerk there while studying in college.
After earning an associate’s degree in engineering from IVC, Tauler chose to change course. She eventually enrolled at San Diego State University, Imperial Valley Campus where she earned a degree in liberal studies in 1987.
From there, it was off to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) where she earned a master’s in library and information services.
Her first job was with the San Diego Public Library at the downtown central library where she served as a reference librarian. With her home in Calexico, that meant a daily commute over the mountain—which was tough on her family because by then she had her son.
A year later, the position of Calexico librarian opened, and she was named to the position. The Calexico library is a special place for her.
“Seeing the sparkle in children’s eyes when you read to them. Talking to people. Helping them find books that will interest them. It’s a special feeling,” she said.
For 13 years, she served as the city librarian, then the city expanded her role to the library and cultural arts director. A couple of years after that, her title changed again to community services director, encompassing the city’s recreational services as well.
“It was just an expansion of my management of programs for the city,” she said, adding the additional roles was a natural fit. “I am totally committed to community service. Adding new topics didn’t change my ability to provide community services.”
But, she said, it is her staff that makes it all possible.
“The few staff I have are so great,” she said. “I am so lucky that they all believe in community services just like I do. They are just as committed as I am.”
Nevertheless, the work can be overwhelming. That’s where Tauler’s other interests become so critical. They are her way to relax. She enjoys gardening at home. She also enjoys listening to audio books as she drives.
Her true passion, however, lies in the arts and crafts. She is a scrapbooker and a card maker. But, anyone who knows Tauler is familiar with her skills in crocheting. It’s a craft taught to her as a child by her grandmother but one she has honed over the years into a skillset that has enabled her to create everything from scarves and hats to stuffed animals and intricately designed blankets.
“I learned how to read patterns and that opened up a whole world to me,” she said. “There is a whole language to it.”
She added of crocheting, “It helps a lot, especially after a hard day.”
While she may face hard days in a constant balancing act, there is so much joy each day when she sees people making use of the city’s services.
“Seeing the participation, reaching new people, seeing people return to use the services over and over means so much to me,” she said.
To reach even more people, Tauler is going to continue “running to the future” always with a mindset of finding that extra funding and those programs to meet the needs of as many people as possible.