Overcoming Obstacles, Step 2

The Match.  The connotation of “match-making” has always been a little bit magical, from back in the day when aunts and friends would thrust a couple into a lifelong marriage, to the tech-happy internet dating sites in today’s world.  We make a different type of match at the Volunteer English Program, not a romantic one, yet also based on compatibility.  Unlike the old-fashioned match-making, our match begins with a one-hour session to get things off on the right foot, followed by monthly updates, all to encourage success.

beaulieu-yuanAfter we train volunteers from the community to be English tutors, and after students undergo the intake process (see Overcoming Obstacles, Step 1), the VEP staff matches each student with a tutor who has the same time of availability and location.  We choose a tutor who might complement the student’s goals, interests, family structure, or ability level.  The “jigsaw puzzle” of matching available tutors to waiting students is part science, part art, as we attempt to align as many factors as possible for the pair, to promote longevity and compatibility.

And then comes the memorable moment when the two meet here in the VEP office.  Irma Pomales-Connors (VEP Program Director) or I sit with the pair for at least an hour, making introductions, planning lessons and reviewing materials, modeling a tutoring session, and practicing techniques that tutors learned in the Tutor Training Workshop.  The tutor and student leave here with goals and a game-plan.

Both student and tutor are a little bit nervous to meet that first time.  We quickly put everyone at ease, asking some questions, modeling the proper speaking speed to accommodate the student’s level.  The tutor leans in, completely engaged as the student tells of his/her challenges, obstacles, goals, and dreams — and I can see the student’s whole demeanor relax and open up.  Sometimes, the student’s relief is palpable with the realization that a volunteer wants to devote time to help them.  Someone who cares!

We provide books for the student and the tutor, walking through techniques for using them to teach reading, comprehension, writing, speaking and listening.  The tutor practices explaining words and concepts, correcting the student, and leading them through materials.  The two ask each other questions, clarify confusing points, and almost invariably, they laugh together at something for the first time.

After we have set goals, outlined lesson-plans, chosen the bi-weekly meeting place and times, and exchanged contact information, the match appointment is over.  The two will meet on their own somewhere in Chester County now, and we might only see the student occasionally.  The tutor will submit a monthly progress report of hours and activities, but the real magic, the countless moments of understanding, instruction, collaboration, all to open opportunities for that student, will happen without us.  All because of a magical match.

If you would like to experience this new kind of relationship in your life, call us.  We have 72 adult immigrants on the student waiting list; one might be the right student for you.

by Patty Rappazzo Morgioni, Program Coordinator

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Uplifting Updates

What do our tutors do with their students?  So many potential volunteers wonder whether they could effectively help another individual, especially one struggling to learn English.  But it only takes a heart and a good listening ear.  Our staff supports the approximately 180 tutors who are out in the community, meeting twice per week to teach English to their student.

Each month, our tutors send us an update on progress made and hours spent with their student.  Reading and responding to these reports is my favorite part of my job: hearing about the hurdles cleared, advising or assisting with current obstacles and goals, and marveling at some of the stories.

Following are a few excepts from tutor updates.  Each one reveals the rewards of volunteering in this program, which goes beyond direct language instruction, and on to cultural exchange and friendship.  (Names have been changed.)

One tutor told about his student’s experience during his landscaping job: “Enrique said a woman came out of her house after he had edged her walk and said it looked “great.”  He asked me what “great” meant.  I told him “magnifico.” He was quite pleased to know that….  I made flash cards of the common flowers he will see around the homes of his clients.  He is working to learn the names of those flowers.”  This led to talking about the flowers in singular and plural, practicing “to be” using is and are, and putting the “s” on singular 3rd person verbs (i.e. It blooms.), and writing a dialogue with the student, practicing typical conversations he might have at work with customers and with managers.

Another tutor writes, “Anita and I continue to work on her conversation and pronunciation as well as other things that come up during the course of our meetings.  I helped her understand a form she had to complete for her insurance company. We have also been working together on writing. Anita and her husband took me out to a nice dinner for my birthday. We enjoy being together and have lengthy conversations on many topics.  Sometimes we read articles or look things up on our iPads. Also, she takes some certification courses from time to time that are required in her career and she will highlight the text if she doesn’t understand something, so I can help her with it when we meet.”

And more……

“Lidia’s gear box on the garage was broken .  Also, she had to call school about her son.  We practiced these dialogues, and then I sat with her while she made the phone calls on speaker phone.”

“We have continued to meet and study the book about American culture provided by VEP.  And to practice conversation in other settings, we took a trip to a Korean food store; played tennis; visited an Asian restaurant; went to the movies.”

Some of the reports are poignant, too.  One tutor had been supporting his student over the past year as her aging father struggled with illness.  He helped her communicate about the challenges she faced and to talk to healthcare workers.  His last report read, “Carmen’s dad died a few weeks ago and she is working through her grief.   She is able to share her emotions with me–good stuff–I feel honored!”

“I took Manuela and her son to Marsh Creek today.  It was so relaxing for her.  She kept telling me how great it was, and Marco would tell her he was happy!!!!  It was her first time sitting on a blanket and having a picnic lunch by the water.  The three of us laid on the blanket looking up to the sky and saying what we thought the clouds looked like.  Marco was so cute when we did that.  Just a beautiful day and such a joy for her.  She is such a sweetheart and I love to bring new things in her life.  She gets so stressed with all the health issues with Marco.”

Six brief anecdotes out of the 180 happening twice every week.  Of course, our tutors volunteer because they want to make life in a new country with a new language possible for someone.  Simply, they want to help.  But the reports we receive show the experience is every bit as uplifting to themselves.  Thank you to our dedicated tutors.

by Patty Rappazzo Morgioni, program coordinator

From Student To Community Advocate

by Noemi Viveros, student of June Bigler

This post is one in a series of student responses to the question, “What has VEP meant to you?”  These poignant illustrations of students’ journeys convey the scope of their challenges.  Each student, at every level, struggles to achieve the next step in English proficiency, and depends on the life-line a volunteer tutor has thrown them.  We are immensely proud of and inspired by these individuals.

Noemi (right) with her friend and fellow student Josefa.

Noemi (right) with her friend and fellow student Josefa.

Through this excellent program I have been learning English for at least 6 years. It was important for me for to learn English and be able to communicate with doctors & other people. Now, I’m able to answer the people who ask me something.  I decided to learn English because when I watched the TV it sound to me like they were talking in another language even though I knew English. On that time, I was feeling lost and disappointed.  To learn English is not like reading a book. It is so far from the reality. This is just the beginning. Finally when you say to yourself “I can speak and listen English”, Guess what?  You need to learn to use idioms.

Thanks for the help and support that my tutor June Bigler has been giving me. She has been guiding me to learn and understand about the American Culture and customs. June is not only my tutor she is my adoptive family. She is always willing to help me in any way possible.

Now I’m bilingual and bicultural, I’m also a medical interpreter. I feel more a part of the community. I don’t have to watch just the Spanish channel, I can watch whatever channel that I want. I have a job at Human Services, Inc in West Chester. Here, I’m helping the Latino community. I advocate for them, for example, I make calls in behalf of my client. I stand up for my rights and the Latino community also. This year I helped 20 children to enroll in the After School Program at the YMCA to do their homework. Now, these children are away of drugs and the street, and they are exercising too.

This program has been a blessing for me, my family and my community. I’m so thankful for all the donors who have giving me the change (chance) to feel part of the community and give back my appreciation.

Editor’s note:  Sometimes the VEP office phone rings, and Noemi’s cheerful voice is on the other end of the line.  She calls in her capacity as community advocate, trying to help a client by securing English tutoring.  She has become an ambassador for the Volunteer English Program.

I am Nuha

This post is part of a series of student responses to our question, “What has the Volunteer English Program meant to you?”Untitled-1

“I am Nuha from Iraq.  We are six people in my family. I have four children and my husband. We lived a good life when we were in Iraq before the war. My husband was a professor at the university, and he had a private office where he worked as a bridge designer. My oldest daughter was studying medicine when we were in Iraq. She needed one and a half years to become a doctor. Two years ago, she graduated from University of Pennsylvania with a major in Biology. My second daughter graduated from Swarthmore College and her major was Pre-Med. And my third daughter will graduate in October from Cabrini University and her major is Math. Hayder, that is my son, is in the second year at Penn State, and his major is Computer Engineering.

“I came to the US in 2008 as a refugee and I couldn’t speak English well. I felt lonely and I hated my life because I couldn’t share when people talked. My friends wanted to help me to learn English, and one of them called me and said she found a good program for me to learn English. She gave me the telephone number for the Volunteer English Program. I called them and I made an appointment with them. I went with my husband, because I couldn’t go alone because I couldn’t understand what the people said. I met the Program Manager and she offered me herself to start with me as a teacher because she didn’t find a volunteer to teach me. This lady helped me to speak and she gave me confidence to speak with people. She invited me to do a workshop and we did a CV for me that helped me to find a job. When I was looking for work as a volunteer, I asked to work in the VEP office. They accepted that, and I worked with them. That gave me more confidence, because they taught me how to print and do copying, which also helped me to find a job.

“I am working now and have applied to study in college. Soon I will be able to apply for citizenship, and I hope to become a US citizen in 2013. I will never forget these angels at Volunteer English Program, because they brought happiness to my life.”