A Global Thanksgiving

Colorful kim-bap from Korea, Eggplant with Ground Beef from Morocco, fragrant steamed dumplings from Japan, delicate hot tamales wrapped in banana leaves from Guatemala, Zimbabwean greens and salsa, Mexican empanadas…  No, it was not a new elegant cosmopolitan restaurant in Philadelphia, but the Annual Tutor/Student reception of the Volunteer English Program.

tutor student reception 13 049 (3872x2592)As Thanksgiving rounds the corner, it was the perfect time for the staff and board of the Volunteer English Program to express our deep gratitude to the 170+ active student/tutor pairs, who work so hard and meet twice each week in order to accomplish the goals and dreams of adult immigrant English language learners.

tutor student reception 13 050 (2592x3872)Almost 100 tutors, students, friends, family and board members brought delicious pot-luck dishes from their native country or family to the reception on Saturday, November 16.  The foods listed above are just a small sample of the diverse international offerings, representing our students from all over the world.

Honoring the contributions of our dedicated tutors and the accomplishments of our determined students, the annual reception gives the pairs who regularly meet one-to-one in the community a chance to join together.   Two students, Isabel Francisco, from Mexico, and Natalya Kuzovleva, from Russia, bravely spoke to the audience about their experiences with the Volunteer English Program.  Honored Tutor-of-the-Year, Christina VandePol, also spoke of her commitment to ESL education and the special needs and struggles of immigrant adults.

VandePol was honored with a citation from PA State Senator Andrew Dinniman.  Also presented with a citation but unable to attend the reception was VEP Board Member Sue Heist,  a long-time champion of VEP, instrumental in mission and logo development and a notable fundraiser for the organization.

Thank you, to all of our tutors, students, and friends.  The mission of the Volunteer English Program is accomplished through your generosity and time. tutor student reception 13 011 (3872x2592)

by Patty Rappazzo Morgioni, program coordinator


Runners, Walkers, Sponsors and Volunteers Support VEP


Although the skies looked threatening right before race time, 58 runners and walkers lined up at Market and Church Streets in West Chester for the 2nd Annual Volunteer English Program Family Fun 5K Run/2.5 Walk event on October 12, 2013.  As runners and walkers made their way through West Chester, the sun burst through and made it a beautiful race day. 

We would like to congratulate 5K runners John Matthews (18:46 time) who placed first in the Men’s group, Constance Franklin (22:32 time) who placed first in the Women’s group, and Stephen Heck (19:57 time) who placed first in the under 16 group. Stephen also qualified as second place finisher for the best overall Men’s Group.

In the 2.5K Walk category, over 28 individuals completed the beautiful downtown West Chester borough course in under 40 minutes. Jack McVety bested the 12 and under group with a time of 17:22, with older brother, Colin closing in at 17:14. IMG_3412

This year’s registrants ranged in age from 9 to 65+. All runners and walkers enjoyed refreshments, awards and fellowship at The United Methodist Church on High Street following the race.  We want to thank all the race sponsors, private donors, and the almost 100 participants who have contributed to our mission of providing free English tutoring to adult immigrants and refugees.   We look forward to seeing everyone again next year!

View the race results here!

View the complete photo album here!

by VEP Board Member Maureen Mackay, Partner, Gawthrop Greenwood PC


The Year of Maria

the year of maria

Maria’s letter is transcribed below for easier viewing.

Last year, Maria came to our office to ask for a tutor.  She was breathless and nervous, speaking with urgency as she explained that she had “waited long enough” to learn English.  She came from Mexico 16 years ago, she explained, but working full time to support herself and her child had demanded all of her time and energy.  It had always been her dream to improve her English and become a United States citizen, but her life was so busy.  Now she needed help.

After several months on our waiting list (due to our constant need for volunteers), Maria finally came back to our office to meet her tutor.  She couldn’t stop smiling!

This September, Maria’s tutor, Sandy, called to tell us that Maria had become a United States citizen, purchased a new home, and obtained a new job!  Maria wrote us the pictured letter, something she could not have done a year and a half ago.  It is transcribed below.

Congratulations to Maria!  May each year be full of growth and accomplishments.

“The Year of Maria”

“I had a dream to speak English better and become a U.S. citizen.  Three years ago I went to Volunteer English.  I took the test.  No one called.  In January, I called Volunteer English and said, “This is my year!”  I went back and took the test again.  Then Patty called me.  I’m so excited I have a tutor.

“My tutor and I met at a restaurant.  I will remember that day forever.  My tutor told me that “pero” is Spanish, in English I have to say “but.”  Oh boy!  My cheeks were red.  I said “I cannot say this bad word.”  A man at the next table said, “That is a normal word in English.”  We laughed a lot.  Now we meet at the library.  I spoke English with my tutor.  We read funny stories and laughed more.  I was not nervous to speak English any more.

“The librarian told me lawyers would come to the library.  They would help me. The lawyers were so nice to me.  I filled out the application.

“Wait… Wait… Wait… I practiced writing sentences for the citizenship test.  I studied the cards with the questions for the test.

“Finally in August I had my interview with immigration.  I have my dream.  I am U.S. Citizen.”


College Trip and a Dream Come True

Vivian, student of VEP tutor Pat Mapps, shares her classic American experience of dropping her child off at college!  Congratulations to Esther and her family.Vivian college trip

Aug. 23, 2013, was the day that changed my family again.

Since we moved to the U.S.A, this four-people family banded together. Our home country is Taiwan, our two kids were born there. 10 years ago, my husband’s job changed, we moved here. Because we didn’t have other family in the U.S.A, so all vacations, special moments, birthdays, graduations and some tough times, we had only our four to share it. After Esther left, life changed.

Williamsburg, Virginia, this place is so colonial. 7 years ago was the first time we visited there. A 6th grade girl, Esther said “I hope someday I can go to this college.” when she saw the college of William and Mary located in the middle of Colonial Williamsburg.  The dream has come true.

After driving for five hours, when we arrived there, it was 2:00 pm. We were lucky to find a Chinese Restaurant for our empty stomachs and probably it was a last Chinese cuisine for Esther before she started to eat in the school’s cafeteria. After lunch, we got her Student ID, the room key and went to the financial office. Nice people and the campus was full of life at my first sight.

My husband’s college mates knew this was not an easy time for us, so they were there for us from New York and Virginia Beach. We stayed at a beautiful family-style hotel in the Williamsburg Visitor Center. We planned a southerner’s dinner for Esther at Shields Tavern. When you go inside, you’ll be seated at a candlelit table and served the dishes from the 18th century. Steven, one of our friends, gave Esther a blue box with a Tiffany necklace. He said ” it’s a tradition that a Godfather gives the blue box when the girl turns 16th.” Even though he is not her Godfather, he knew what a special event this was for her. 

The big day was coming. Early morning, we picked up the stuff from Bed and Bath which we had ordered in PA and headed to school to help Esther settle in for her first year at William & Mary. We saw many welcome signs, “Williamsburg Welcomes W&M Students,” that was exciting. The school was very nice to send many hands to help student and family move into the room. Esther’s room is on the 2nd floor, located across from the bathroom and beside the laundry room. Not big, but it’s enough to hold two girls. Emily, her roommate, is a beautiful Chinese girl who was adopted at 2 years old and grew up in North Carolina.

Orientation was in the William and Mary Memorial Hall, thousands of students and family all gathered to celebrate this new page of a son or daughter’s life. After the ceremony, students and family were split into two groups to attend orientation sessions till night.

For the next two days, we just tried not to think about Esther, instead to have fun with friends in the beautiful town. We walked in the colonial streets and took in the history of the 18th century. We learned how the people during that time made newspapers, how the court worked and how Capital Hall looked. Something that impressed me was the many workers dressed up and walking around. When you asked them to take a picture or said hi to them, they stopped and spoke as if we were living in the 18th century. One afternoon, we had High Tea in a hotel where Britain’s Queen also had the same High Tea. This was a special experience to me- beautiful china, fragrant tea, fine cakes and a lovely atmosphere.

Sunday, before we headed back home, we met Esther again and went to worship together. I was so surprised, she seemed so mature. That moment I was so glad for her, even though I need the time to adjust. But we all know this step will be a big milestone in her life.

You Have Something to Teach

As our next tutor training workshop approaches, I am reflecting on the quick learning curve our volunteer tutors.  Each one makes a huge difference in the life of an adult immigrant by teaching English and American culture.  When the new volunteers first attend the tutor training workshop, they are often apprehensive and unsure whether they will be capable of the job.  Most of our tutors are not teachers by career, and they wonder if they will be qualified to really help.   tutor training 2012 2

Every tutor really makes a difference.  After they leave the 3-night training, they are armed with everything they need to begin tutoring.  When they come to our office to meet their student, we spend an hour here introducing them and going over goals, books and lesson guidelines. They are ready!

Brand new tutors immediately boost their student’s confidence and share cultural information, simply by being willing to help.  They are sharing the language they speak every day.  And very quickly, tutors develop expertise, as evidenced in the monthly tutor updates sent to us.  

One tutor, Sue, suggested to her intermediate level student to read a book that is just below her tested reading level, to practice comprehension.  She found it improved her student’s confidence, showed her how much she already can read, and challenged her to tackle the next level.  Just by spending time with the student, this tutor discovered an approach that worked.

Another tutor, Carol, discovered a great use for texting with her brand new student. Scheduling meetings with her beginning level student via email and phone had left them both frustrated and disheartened.  Most of us resort immediately to these because of their expediency.  However, the messages were too complicated for her student.  Her simple text —  “Meeting on Tuesday from 10 am to 11:30am.  Yes or no?”  —  was easily understood by her student.  Carol got her confirmation, and her student didn’t have to worry about tripping over her words on the phone or in an email.

Tutor Maggie realized her student was not putting the “s” on verbs that needed it, incorrectly saying “He walk.” and “She look pretty.”  She focuses on this difficult-to-learn aspect of our language a little bit each meeting.

Each and every one of our tutors has the natural ability to teach someone.  And after training and meetings with VEP staff, they develop skills and an arsenal of techniques.

You have something to teach, too!  Won’t you consider joining us for the next tutor training workshop, to be held Sept. 12, 16, and 19, from 6 to 9 p.m., at Calvary Lutheran Church in West Chester.  Click here for more information about the training and to register.

by Program Coordinator Patty Rappazzo-Morgioni

Reflecting on a Year of Tutoring

New tutors and students often wonder what the one-to-one tutoring model is really like.  I asked Bev Colestock, tutor, and her student Olga Andrade, a few questions about their relationship.  Bev has been tutoring Olga since May, 2012.

1.  Do you remember your first meeting?  What was it like?  How were you feeling?

Bev and Olga enjoying a tutoring session.

Bev and Olga enjoying a tutoring session.

Bev: I first met Olga in May 2012 at the VEP office. I was a new tutor and she was my first student so I was very excited to meet her. I wasn’t sure how much Olga could understand, so we pretty much spoke through Patty, the program coordinator. I remember I was very nervous because I am not a teacher and wondered if I would actually be able to help this girl. Olga was very sweet and Patty helped get us started by sharing ideas and suggestions from VEP resources. By the time I left that evening, I was feeling more confident and couldn’t wait to meet with Olga again and get to know her.

Olga: I was worried too because I was stuck in traffic and I had an appointment to meet. I was excited, but I was nervous too.  Bev seemed too serious and I didn’t know what to say. Fortunately, Patty was there and she conducted the meeting.

 2. How does that first meeting compare to recent meetings?  How have things improved?  How has your relationship grown?

Bev: Olga and I started out meeting at the Chester County Library in Exton twice a week. Olga and I made a connection right away and are very comfortable with each other. Initially we had a more structured format. We chose stories or news articles to read and discuss. We began making a list of words that Olga had trouble pronouncing and added to it. Many times we would end our meeting with Olga repeating these words over and over. As time went on and we got to know each other better our lessons focused on Olga’s goals at the time: which were writing her resume, moving into a new apartment, explaining something to her car mechanic, etc. Now we meet at my home on Monday & Wednesday evenings and I look forward to her coming. Our relationship has grown from Tutor/Student into a very good friendship that I will always treasure. We spend a lot of time just talking about everything – each other’s families, American and Colombian customs and culture, what we did last weekend, our jobs, etc.

Olga:  Of course we received advice and options from VEP but it was a new experience for both of us as we developed the class. At the beginning we followed a book and as time passed, we worked on my resume, a job interview, appointments, health insurance, etc. I can say I have found in Bev not only a great tutor but also a friend who has helped me to improve my English and feel more confident, and who has helped me and my husband to understand more about this culture and its customs.

 3.  Did something funny ever happen during your tutoring sessions?

Olga: I have always had trouble with my pronunciation. So I remember that many funny situations have been related to my pronunciation. I want to say something but my mouth says something different. However I remember a funny situation where Bev couldn’t stop laughing. It happened when my husband and I moved from Devon to West Chester. I wanted to write in the “Inspection List” that the microwave had a dent but I didn’t know how to write that.  So I used the Google translate and the sentence I wrote was “the microwave has a stroke in the right side”.

Bev:  Olga and I do laugh a lot. I explained why I was laughing and we both ended up laughing about it!

 4.  Olga, what has been the most difficult or challenging part of learning English for you?  How has the one-to-one tutoring model addressed this?

Olga: The most difficult part of learning English has been the pronunciation. Sometimes it seems impossible for me to pronounce a word or make a sound. But at the end after I repeat the word hundreds of times I am able to pronounce it correctly. Of course this always happens with Bev’s help. We have a list with the words that I can’t pronounce easily, so every class we study these words and I have to repeat them many times during the class. Also, Bev always corrects my mistakes while I am talking.

 5.  Bev, what has been your biggest challenge as a tutor?  What surprises did you find along the way?

Bev: Olga has made it very easy for me to be a tutor. She is smart, educated and extremely motivated. I work full time so I was a little concerned about having time to prepare lessons. Lucky for me, Olga is always prepared. She keeps a notebook and writes down questions or phrases that she hears or anything that comes to mind so we can discuss it the next time we meet. Olga is an excellent writer and usually writes a journal about what she did over the weekend. I read it or she reads it to me and that leads into a conversation where she practices her pronunciation. I would say the biggest challenge I have faced is trying to explain why we sometimes say something a certain way in English that doesn’t make sense or is an exception to the rule. My son was taking a Spanish class in college and Olga was helping him one night when she was at my house. What surprised me was she was having the same problem trying to explain to him why things are said a certain way in Spanish, but she didn’t know why.

 6.  Olga, can you measure your growth at all?  What are you able to do now that you couldn’t do before you came to VEP?

Olga: I can say that my English has improved over time. Of course I am aware that I have to continue working on it because it takes time. However, when I began to work with Bev I had some knowledge about grammar, but my biggest problem was when I wanted to talk. I was only able to say some sentences but keeping a conversation was almost impossible for me. Building whole sentences in my mind while I was talking was too hard. Now I am able to keep a conversation, I am able to understand many people (not all of course). Also I am able to follow a movie or a TV program using the subtitles, and I am able to understand the lyrics to some songs and it makes me so happy!

Editor’s note:  If you can see yourself as a student or a tutor with the Volunteer English Program, give us a call at 610-918-8222, or visit us at www.volunteerenglish.org.


Faces of the Volunteer English Program

You know how many words a picture is worth….  rubinger-wei

Check out our video of students and tutors on YouTube.  Thank you to our board member Michael P. Boyle, PhD, Associate Professor of Communications at West Chester University, for creating this for us to share the special relationships that are evident in each of these images.