Wisdom from The 2014 Betsy Hawkes Award Winner

VEP-132Shannon Almquist is an inspiration.  She’s one of those women you could listen to all day, who has met so many fascinating people in her life, and who always gives back to her community and her world.  We are fortunate that she is a long-time VEP tutor who has taught five students in our program over the years, in addition to many more she has hosted in her home with her husband Roy, who was pastor at Calvary Lutheran Church.  She is also an Educational Consultant who has trained tutors here at VEP and all over the globe.

At our recent “Help VEP Bloom” spring fundraiser, Shannon was the recipient of the Betsy Hawkes Award, presented by Bob Hawkes, VEP Sponsor, friend, and husband of the late Betsy Hawkes.  Her moving speech follows.  Enjoy!

Many, if not most, non profit organizations and charities are the brainchild of one individual. In the case of Volunteer English, it was the vision of June Hamilton to enlist her fellow members of Calvary Lutheran Church in West Chester to aid recent immigrants in learning English, so they could be fully integrated into their chosen communities. Our early materials were Laubach books and curricular materials from the Chester County Library, ones created for missionaries to use in their work in distant places.

For an organization to survive, flourish, and grow it must transcend its initial stage. The Volunteer English Program now has almost 200 tutors and is led by professionals. These professionals test each student, determine with them goals and level of English. They train the tutors and match them with appropriate students…it’s come a long way from the “mom and pop” origins. They provide educationally appropriate materials, from newspapers to driver manuals to citizenship application guides. The Board consists of local business and professional leaders who understand how to support and guide the organization and aid in the funding necessary for VEP to survive and thrive.

As for my journey, I first had Shan Shan as a student. She had been a Russian professor in China, along with her husband. When the Cultural Revolution determined educated people to be “the enemy,” they and their 2 children were sent to the countryside to be “re-educated,” and their children (along with an entire generation) were denied education. Somewhere Shan Shan heard that in America you could be a life long learner, and she decided she would apply for immigration here and hope to be able to bring her husband and two grown (20 and 22) children to this country. The American dream…that you can be a life long learner. How lucky we are to be able to share and participate in that dream.

Since then I have had Marcella from Mexico, Andrea from Hungary, and Toranj and Nasrin from Iran. Nasrin is here this evening with her husband Reza, and she became an American citizen last year. Her boys are at local schools, and the family is thriving. Nasrin is employed by the Chester County Intermediate Unit as a substitute secondary math teacher. She has become a dear friend.

So that’s the story…that we change lives one by one. And in the process, we tutors are the ones who are blessed by the experience, by the inspiration of these courageous people, and by the new friendships.”

Below is a “Wordle” of Shannon’s speech.

Wordle: Betsy Hawkes Award Winner Speech



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

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.