Words from The Betsy Hawkes Memorial Award Winner

At the 2012 Annual Spring Fundraising Breakfast this past June, the Volunteer English Program once more presented the Besty Hawkes Memorial Award. This award honors a person who deeply embodies the principles of VEP and who has greatly served the agency over the years. It is named in memory of a very special supporter of VEP. Betsy’s husband Bob was a special guest at the event, during which he presented the award.

This year’s recipient truly exemplifies the purpose and meaning of the Volunteer English Program. If you know VEP, you probably have known Carol Klauss, who is a former long-time director, staff member, tutor, and devoted advocate. In this blog post, we are fortunate to be able to reprint Carol’s moving speech from the June 1 breakfast. Her words, below, convey the essense of the program. Congratulations to Carol, and thank you for all you continue to do!

“Thank you for this tribute! It is special to me because it honors Betsy Hawkes, a dear friend and someone for whom I had great admiration. Often, in decision making situations, I would ask myself, “What would Betsy do?” She was wise, intelligent, fun and kind. She and I shared a strong compassion for the well-being of immigrants and their families. So indeed, this is a very meaningful award!

“Thank you for this tribute! It is special to me because it honors Betsy Hawkes, a dear friend and someone for whom I had great admiration. Often, in decision making situations, I would ask myself, “What would Betsy do?” She was wise, intelligent, fun and kind. She and I shared a strong compassion for the well-being of immigrants and their families. So indeed, this is a very meaningful award!

“In 1990 I was hired as VEPs first full-time Executive Director. As the only employee, I was also the Program Coordinator, Tutor Trainer, Student Coordinator, Curriculum Developer, Bookkeeper and Office Manager.

“VEP had space in an attic office in Frazer where the overhead was low, but so were the ceilings. Even at a slight 5’2”, I would hit my head almost every time I stood up from my desk chair. But, on a total annual program budget of $18,000 who could complain about free space.

“It was from that space that VEP began to grow and so did I. Since then I’ve had quite an education. I’ve learned to look at common concepts through a different lens, not just an American lens.

“One of those concepts is personal perspective. Meeting immigrants new to the U.S. taught me the importance of respecting and appreciating different personal perspectives. For example: in the late 1990s, thousands of people fled their native Kosovo because of the tumultuous political conflicts. Many came here to Chester County. I vividly recall sitting in the VEP office with a middle age man, Artan and his wife, Merita, both looking worn and weary. They came to VEP looking for an English tutor for Merita. I addressed my question about goal setting to Artan since his English was the better of the two and asked, “What does Merita see herself doing one year from now or five years from now?” There was a silent moment as Artan’s face hardened and with sadness and a bit of anger in his voice he answered, “You don’t understand. In our country we’ve only ever taken life one day at a time.” Artan and Merita’s perspective on goal setting was quite different from mine.

“The second concept is sacrifice. From our immigrant population I’ve learned about the sacrifices people will make to secure a better life, if not for themselves, for their children. Early in my career I met Han Jing and her husband Yie. They were both surgeons in China where although the hours were long and the pay was low, they pursued their professions with pride. Nevertheless, they longed for the American Dream for their children. So, after an arduous journey coming to the U.S., one-by-one, the family was finally reunited and they all eventually became citizens. Han Jing and Jie spent the remainder of their working years employed at Burger King and with the U.S. Postal Service while their three children went to public school and excelled. Today those children, graduates of Harvard and Penn, are living the American Dream because of their parents’ sacrifices.

“I’d like to add that Han Jin recently wrote and published this book, My Life Story, a memoir chronicling her life from childhood to present day. She worked every day of her adult life, not retiring until age 78. In her book, time and again, she credits her English tutor with being responsible for helping her fulfill her American Dream.

“And lastly, because of VEP, I can view gratitude through a global lens. Through my vast contacts with immigrants, I have been reminded, over and over, of how blessed I am to have been born in the U.S. I am continually grateful for, as Longfellow calls it, my “chance of birth”.

“Working for VEP has been my career, its mission my passion. Being honored with the Betsy Hawkes Award for doing what I love is as good as it gets. THANK YOU!”

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