Taking VEP on the Road

by board member and tutor, Fred Crotchfelt

The best way to connect with our community is to get out into it!  I enjoy being a tutor and a board member for the Volunteer English Program, but another rewarding aspect of my involvement is coordinating our Speaker’s Bureau. Taking our message directly to local businesses, clubs, churches, service organizations and professional groups becomes a perfect opportunity to build relationships.fred at lions

Preferring to “do business” with people we know is part of human nature.  Meeting a goodwill ambassador from VEP, especially a student, and hearing him or her “tell their story”, allows people to “put a face” with VEP. For instance, Jessica Ji, Kate Varley’s student from China, spoke to the International Women’s Club.  Group members, many of whom could personally identify with her story of why she came to America, were so impressed that they invited her to come to a future meeting and even suggested joining their club!  (See the post Jessica wrote on Feb. 6)

Gustavo 1

Gustavo tells his tutor, Fred, about his work.

As another example, Gustavo Castro, my student from Colombia, has spoken to Lions and Rotary Clubs.  In all instances the audience cannot help but admire someone whose dream brought him to America by himself a year before his wife could come and was so lonely at first that he wanted to go back home – but didn’t.

This is VEP!

At each presentation we are represented by a tutor and student . . . and normally a VEP Board member.  The total presentation takes 15 – 25 minutes and also includes some time for the audience to ask questions.

When I speak, as a tutor or Board member, our audience is politely attentive.  When our students are speaking, everyone’s attention is riveted on them.  Their stories are powerful reminders of what our country is made of from the beginning, and people sometimes mention that fact.  I feel like a proud father when I hear the students and see how people respond to them.

On a personal level, these opportunities have also opened a whole new “world” of connections to me.  I have met business people, members and leaders of other not-for-profit organizations, golfers (with whom I have a special affinity) and leaders in our community.  Many of these folks, I continue to see in our community and even to meet or keep in touch with.

There are tangible results that we seek from our presentations:

  • PRIMARY – Recruit volunteer tutors
  • Obtain volunteers for events and projects
  • Inform potential employers about this resource for their employees
  • Let potential students know we are here for them
  • Appeal to individuals for prospective board membership or committee participation
  • Cultivate future sponsorships and other support

YOU CAN HELP VEP!  If you know of an organization, or belong to one, which might be interested in learning about VEP, let me or the VEP office know, and we will follow up.

Fred Crotchfelt,  fredciii@chesco.com,  484-354-0283


The Power of the Program

Every day, people who are desperate for help learning English come to us looking tired from working two jobs and caring for their families.  They are so hopeful that we can help them learn the English they need to schedule a doctor’s appointment, talk to their child’s teacher, understand their phone bill, fill out a job application, and speak to their American neighbors and co-workers.  With help from a Volunteer English Program tutor, they achieve these goals and more.

VEP has more than 25 years of successful experience teaching English to adult immigrants and refugees in our community.  We serve over 200 adults from more than 40 countries.  Our program has earned numerous awards and commendations for successfully serving thousands of people who can now participate in and give back to the communities we share.  But nothing illustrates the power of our program more than the students themselves.

In the coming weeks, we will post students’ letters which tell of their transformation thanks to our one-to-one tutoring model.  Please watch for each student testimonial, telling about the impact of the Volunteer English Program.

In the face of decreasing and disappearing funding for the the work of non-profits, VEP is in the midst of our annual fundraising appeal.  Our waiting list frequently climbs to more than 60 people.  We need funds to recruit and train tutors, intake and assess students, purchase textbooks and materials, match tutors and students, and coach pairs throughout the time they work together.  If you would like to make a donation, please click here or visit our website at www.volunteerenglish.org. It is our donors’ generosity which truly sustains the power of our program.  Thank you!

How Do I Tutor?

This post was submitted by long-term tutor and VEP Board Member, Fred Crotchfelt.  He currently has two students, one from Colombia and one from China.  In addition, Fred leads the VEP Speakers Bureau.

What I do with my student during sessions? This is a question I am frequently asked when I speak about the Volunteer English Program.  There are many methods to tutor our students. One of the benefits of our one-on-one tutorial model is that we can tailor the training to the individual, as opposed to having to fit one method of teaching to a whole classroom of students, all with different needs.

Fred with his students, Gustavo on the left and Jerry on the right.

Fred with his students, Gustavo on the left and Jerry on the right.

In the early stages of my tutor/student relationship we started with the workbooks provided by the VEP office, in addition to general conversation and learning about the person him/herself. It’s really part of the “feeling out” part of the process. That’s the way we tutors find out about our student’s level of competence of English and what the student wants (or needs) to get out of the process.

In my case, both of my students wanted to work beyond the workbooks after a couple of months since it soon became apparent that the real need was conversation . . . to be able to go out in public and communicate in English.

I believe some students stop the tutorial process and leave because they get bored if all they are doing is sitting practicing exercises in a book. The books are important to establish the base learning elements . . . but it’s definitely not all the whole process is about.

So, if we don’t sit and read and do practice exercises from the books, what do we do? How does conversation work and what generates it? After listening to him talk about his weekend and week at work and the politics of our country and his country, the best stimulus is out and around our community. These are some of the things I do with my students:

• Visit his manufacturing plant – I make him explain the how the machinery works, how things get put together, who the customers are, and any other subject which gets him talking in English. I had him introduce me to his boss.
• We have walked around in West Chester and gone to the Exton Mall – we talk about whatever we see or pass.
• We’ll go to eat at a restaurant – he will read the menu to me and he will order by himself
• We’ll take a drive in the car and discuss what we see.
• Both have accompanied me on a speaking engagement.

I’d be interested in learning what other tutors do with their students in addition to the more formal studies through workbooks and in-session tutoring. Let us know! –Fred C.

Editor’s note:  VEP tutors, please join the conversation.   Call Patty at 610-918-8222 if you’d like to share your tutoring experience here on the blog.  Thanks for all you do!

The Power of Speaking in Front of Groups

by Fred Crotchfelt, VEP Board Member and Tutor

My student Gustavo Castro is from Colombia.

Gustavo Castro and Fred Crotchfelt at the VEP Spring Fundraising Breakfast in June, 2012.

Gustavo, as with many students, was very tentative engaging in conversation when we first met.  For an immigrant, being able to engage in conversation with Americans is very important.  It is a critical part of building their confidence for day-to-day “participation in America”.  As with most immigrants, even those who have a fairly good vocabulary and generally understand English, talking in English to others can be a very frustrating experience.

The confidence students receive through our program by talking to someone (their tutor) who will not judge them or make fun of them or act like they cannot understand them, and who continually gives them positive reinforcement through words and actions, is immeasurable.

BUT . . . when a student is asked, and agrees to, speak in front of a group the confidence level increases exponentially!

That’s why, when I asked Gustavo to speak to a “new tutor” training session about his experiences and he agreed, we were taking a really BIG step to improve his confidence level.  When an international student who is just learning to string words and sentences together is able to speak English in front of a group of people it is very empowering.  It engenders confidence in being able to feel more and more a part of our society.   Gustavo did very well and he has spoken to several different groups.  Typically he is asked . . . and has to respond . . . to questions, and that creates an enriching speaking dialogue.

For many students, there are not opportunities to speak to groups.  As tutors, we should make every attempt to allow our students to speak in front of people and groups.  Working with the VEP Speakers Bureau can give you and your student these opportunities.

English4U Fun Run/Walk

Little did you know that you could support the Volunteer English Program (VEP) and get healthier at the same time.

Join VEP at our “English4U” 5K Run/2.5K Walk. In fact, why not make this a family, neighborhood, church, or company affair and invite all your friends to attend. 

Folks of all ages will be participating. Kids are more than welcome (the entry fee for kids under 12 is less expensive) and there will be prizes for the 16 & under group, too. 

The Race/Walk will be held on Saturday, September 15 in West Chester and will start at 3:00 pm at the  Iron Hill Brewery and Restaurant, 3 West Gay Street, West Chester. You have a choice: you can either strut your stuff in the 5K Race, or saunter your stuff in the 2.5K Walk. Either way, you will have fun, do your body a good deed, and help support the Volunteer English Program all at the same time.

Plus, you can receive a prize for being one of the top three winners in your age group, or get a keepsake, collector’s quality Run/Walk T-shirt absolutely free just for registering in advance. Either way, you’re a winner.

Registering is easy. Go to the VEP website www.volunteerenglish.org/  and pre-register online by September 1st to automatically get your T-shirt in the size of your choice on race day.  Or you can sign-up on race day at Iron Hill Brewery, West Chester, at  2:00 pm on September 15th; however, you may not be guaranteed a T-shirt.

After the race, join all the VEP English4U runners and walkers at the Iron Hill Brewery and Restaurant for an after-run celebration. Complimentary snacks and camaraderie included.  Toast the winners and yourself for supporting VEP!

You’re guaranteed to have fun supporting the Volunteer English Program’s work teaching English to adults in our community.

We look forward to seeing you and your friends at the Race/Walk on September 15.

From the planning committee for the English4U run/walk.

My “Daughter” Magali

by Ruth Passo, VEP Board Member and Tutor

Magali and I met a little over three years ago through the VEP program. Her husband, Jose, had been transferred here from Venezuela with SAP, a large German high tech company with US headquarters nearby. Magali had also worked at SAP as a consultant but was not offered a job with the relocation. So, a little after two weeks of moving here, she was actively seeking ways to improve her English skills with an ultimate goal of finding a job here.

While her conversational skills were of a decent intermediate level, she needed more advanced grammatical and vocabulary improvements on both a verbal and written level. We immediately started working on her resume and met at my house two times a week. We bonded immediately and enjoyed each other’s company as well.

Over the next few months, we worked hard. As interview opportunities arose, we practiced and talked about the types of questions that might be posed and appropriate responses. As a result of her serious efforts, she eventually received a great opportunity to interview with WaWa. After a series of contacts, the company requested that she prepare a mock powerpoint presentation to further review her English language capabilities. Also, the company had never hired a foreigner before. Eventually, she was hired.

It is now almost three years since then, and the company has been extremely happy with her performance. Recently, she joined the company’s Diversity Council, which has a greater Philadelphia footprint. The attached picture with Mayor Nutter took place at a recent, annual Diversity Council gala.

As a footnote, Magali and her husband liked my home so much they bought the same model just a block away. And 2 ½ years ago, they had their first child, Valentina, who is my “granddaughter.” We are a very close “family” and have even planned vacations together. The special one-on-one VEP program is more than just an English language program for me. It is a special opportunity to become connected with someone from another culture and to learn a lot about each other in the process.