Volunteers help newcomers learn English
Native Spanish-speaker Eusebia Garza went to the Mesa County library in 2003 knowing almost no English. When she first met her volunteer tutor through the library’s Adult Literacy Program back then, she barely knew the English alphabet.
Today, she can stand confidently before a room full of prospective tutors and describe her experiences and success in the program—and do it all in English. In fact, she works part-time for the program now.
“When I introduce my new students, they ask me, ‘Do you think I can learn?’ I say, ‘Sure, I was in your shoes before’,” Garza explained at a recent open house for the program, which is seeking more volunteer tutors. “You can learn if you want to. I am the biggest example right here.”
There are more than 100 adult students on the waiting list for English instruction, in either a group class or with an individual tutor, program officials said.
“We are in desperate need,” said Karen Kllanxhja, head of literacy services for Mesa County Libraries. “The (literacy program) would not exist without volunteers.”
The program—free for people with a desire to learn English, hone their language skills, or prepare to take the U.S. citizenship test—counted more than 500 people from 30 different countries last year.
But as organizers said, demand for the services is outpacing the number of tutors, so they are putting out the call for volunteer teachers.
Volunteers need not speak a second language, and the program will train prospective tutors and provide them with all the resources and curriculum that is needed. All that is required of tutors is an ability to guide motivated adults who want to learn English.
Once trained, tutors are matched with students or groups, and an assessment is done about what sorts of goals students have.
“Do they want to read to their kids in English? Do they want to apply for jobs? Do they want to speak fluently? There are all these different levels,” explained Program Coordinator Wendy Kirby. “These students are adults, and they are so humble. They are so ready to learn.”
Tutors who are already a part of the program attended the recent open house to tout their experiences. They clearly have gotten a lot out of helping others learn English.
Tish Kllanxhja is 89 and moved to the Grand Valley 10 years ago. He was born in Albania, raised in Italy and had some private teaching experience in his professional background.
“I decided when I came here, I couldn’t quit doing things. I’ve worked all my life,” he told the crowd of prospective tutors. “This has opened my eyes and opened doors. I’ve been doing this now for 10 consecutive years, and it’s part of my everyday life.”
Vicky Bray is another tutor, and she said she gets as much out of the tutoring sessions as her eager students.
“I love to teach. I love to learn. I can share that with these students—they love to learn,” Bray said. “They’ve done their homework and they want to learn. They are generous people, gracious people. I think I learn as much as they do.”
Karen Kllanxhja said the program has “every kind of student imaginable.”
“We have students that have had very little education in their home country, so they’re not very literate even in their own language. That’s a pretty big challenge,” she said. “But we also have people from all over the world who have advanced degrees from their native country—doctors, attorneys, engineers.”
Kirby said the majority of the students they work with are Hispanic, with the second largest group being Asian, but she has seen a real influx of people from Russia and eastern Europe lately.
Volunteer tutors need to commit to at least one hour a week for a six-month period. But organizers will always work around vacations and schedules, she said. Once tutors are paired with students, sessions can be held in any public place anywhere around town. Classes happen at all times of the day, and tutors can pretty much set any guideline they wish.
The Adult Literacy Program also offers Rosetta Stone language training at library branches, hosts a weekend group conversation class and holds immigration legal nights twice a year. It also is doing outreach and classes at the Dual Immersion Academy and Community Hospital this year, organizers said.
Those who are interested can fill out an application to become a tutor on the library’s website at mesacountylibraries.org. Click the “volunteer” link at the bottom of the page, or call 683-2431 for more information.