Volunteer Voice

As a literacy volunteer, you are part of a dedicated, compassionate and creative community that is 3,655 strong. These are your stories.

Have a story of your own you’d like to share? We’d love to hear it! Simply fill out this form to share your voice, and we’ll highlight your experience in our monthly e-newsletter for adult literacy volunteers and here in the Volunteer Voice blog.

Columbus Day
Written by Phat Le, Waite Park

Today we celebrate the date that Christopher Columbus and his crew set foot on the island of San Salvador in October, 1492 as the first traveler in the Americas. Christopher didn’t go to school to get education, but he has a lot of tutors in the navigation area who were proficient sailors. In the same way, Christopher Columbus’ tutors prepared him for his journey to the new world, Mr. Paul is preparing me for my life in the new country.

I was working with a group on students on numbers. When I showed a flashcard, a student would read the number.

On Thao’s turn, the flashcard showed a “5”.
He read the number: “fie.”
I corrected him: “five.”
He repeated: “fie.”
I emphasized the last consonant by exaggerating it: “fie VUH”.
Thao stated: “fie VUH.”

The next time around, Thao got the flashcard with a “12”.
He read the number: “twel.”
I corrected him: “twelve.”
He repeated: “twel.”

I answered the ad because I met the only qualification necessary: "Do you speak English? Then you can teach it." At my interview the only qualifications I had to offer besides my English speaking ability were a willingness to learn and a love of helping. How was I to know I'd fall desperately in love with each of my students. No one can prepare you for the heart to heart connections you make with people just learning your language. Another thing I was never warned of when I started was how my students teach me way more than I ever teach them.

We all are inspired by different things; nature, a painting, a book and for me the students in an Adult Basic Education class. I started volunteering in an adult literacy class because I love to read. We need many skills in our daily lives and I believe reading is one of the most important life skills that we all need. All interested people should have the opportunity to learn or improve their reading skills; my goal was to help others improve their ability to read.

There was a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and we wrote a letter. We didn't write, at first. At first, we talked with shock and horror, trying to process and share what we knew. A difficult struggle, to express deep emotions with surface level words in a common language which is uncommonly challenging. But we did it. We knit together our heartbreak and sorrow with bits and pieces of the language we share. We grieved together in fragmented English and full understanding of one another's pain.

We are pleased to announce that Pat Harlan-Marks of

In honor of National Volunteer Week this month, we would like to recognize Mandy Cardinal, a very special literacy volunteer from our Open Door Learning Center - Northeast. Since Mandy Cardinal began volunteering at Northeast in August, she has been admired for her dedication, creativity, and sense of humor as a volunteer ESL teacher.
Our April Literacy Open Door Learning Center - North Side Leader, Cletus Maychrzak, is well-known to every student at the learning center. In the two years since Cletus started volunteering at North Side, he has worked in almost every class. His popularity and the deep impact he has made on his students, however, might be better explained by Cletus' passion for teaching and his enthusiasm in the classroom. When a student who attended Cletus' Science GED class over a year ago was asked, "When you think of science, what do you think of?" She responded, "I think of Cletus' laugh."
Every week for four days a week, Chris Montgomery arrives at the Open Door Learning Center - Rondo an hour early to work one-on-one with students before class begins. Then he assists in the set-up of his classroom and proceeds to spend the rest of the day co-teaching GED, monitoring practice tests, tutoring small groups, and mentoring students. A leader to all in his indefatigable energy and drive to support both his students and learning center, Chris has earned the distinction of being our March Literacy Leader.
We would like to congratulate Mary Gilbertson of Open Door Learning Center - Arlington Hills as our February Literacy Leader! Mary started volunteering as a teacher at Arlington Hills in October of 2012. However, she first began her work with ESL students early on in her career as a teacher in the ESL program at Highland Junior and Senior High in St. Paul. Mary appreciated these students' tenacity in the classroom and their eagerness to learn. "Looking back at that time," she says, "I believe I learned more from them than they learned from me." Inspired by her students at Highland, Mary decided to continue her work with ESL by becoming a Minnesota Literacy Council volunteer.



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