Column: Literarcy Volunteers make an impactWORTHINGTON — Each Monday morning they arrive, and each Thursday evening they depart. They are women and men aged 11 to 91, from diverse cultural backgrounds, with valuable skills and a desire to put them to good use.
By: Justin Stevenson, District 518, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — Each Monday morning they arrive, and each Thursday evening they depart. They are women and men aged 11 to 91, from diverse cultural backgrounds, with valuable skills and a desire to put them to good use. They listen, they instruct and they build relationships. They come from Worthington, Sibley, Sioux Falls and more. They are the District 518 Literacy Volunteers. Based in Worthington’s West Learning Center, these volunteers have had an immense, yet hitherto unsung, impact on the community.
As Worthington grows, its needs expand and diversify. People from around the world are moving themselves and their families to Worthington for many reasons: to start anew, to find work and even to simply live in safety. But moving here is only the first of many steps. Some are looking for education and career development, some for United States citizenship, while some hope to empower their children and lay a strong foundation for future generations. To continue their journey, many of these new residents enroll in one of our many classes at Community Education: GED, Citizenship, English as a Second Language (ESL), and Even Start for preschool children. Unfortunately, as our student population grows, the possibility of providing individualized help to each student disappears. This is where our volunteers step in.
Through one-on-one and small group interaction, they help boost students’ GED competencies, prepare them for the citizenship test and strengthen a wide range of English skills. Preschool volunteers also help prepare 3-5 year-olds for future success by exposing them to various literacy experiences. Perhaps more importantly, though, our volunteers build relationships that bridge the cultural divide and bring together spheres of the community that might not otherwise overlap. Our volunteers cite the relationships they have built with students as the most rewarding aspect of their work, and the smiles I so often see on the faces of volunteers and students alike is proof positive of that.
District 518 Literacy Volunteers reflect the diverse community they seek to help. Some are former educators that continue to exercise their teaching craft beyond retirement. Some are university students accruing valuable skills and experience. Some of them are former students looking to give back to the program that helped them achieve their goals. But all of them are the same in one regard: they have seen their community’s needs and are stepping up to meet them.
One of our volunteers, Lucile Darling, is a former first-grade teacher from Brewster. At 91 years old, Lucile has been volunteering with Community Education for more than five years. When asked what keeps her coming back each Wednesday, she said, “I enjoy finding out about all of the different cultures. Volunteering is something I can do to give back and help those in need.” Lucile has traditionally helped students with lower English levels, but despite the challenges, she remains highly optimistic. “I find it so rewarding when I see a student grasp a new word or concept.”
District 518 Literacy Volunteers primarily work with preschool and adult students in a one-on-one or small group environment, inside and outside of the classroom. Each volunteer works between one and three hours each week with time slots available morning, afternoon and evening, Monday through Thursday. We do not require prior teaching and tutoring experience — just patience, a positive attitude and a willingness to help. Our licensed instructors explain all activities and provide all of the relevant materials.
Lucile understands that while some people might want to help, they sometimes experience a sense of trepidation towards volunteering. “Who will I be working with?” “What about the language barrier?” “What if I’m not prepared?” Before beginning their work, all volunteers undergo an orientation, training and classroom observation process that answers any lingering questions and familiarizes them with the program. By that time, the volunteer is ready and able to begin making a positive change in their community.
Worthington is a city of the future, a cultural dynamo-in-the-making tucked within southwestern Minnesota like a gem waiting to be uncovered. The future does not make itself, though. Worthington is in a state of flux, and to remain vibrant, it will take many active and conscientious people throwing their passions into strengthening the ties that make a community a community. While serving as an MP in Dundee, Scotland, in 1908, future British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, asked, “What is the use of living, if it be not to strive for noble causes and to make this muddled world a better place for those who will live in it after we are gone?” Is there a cause nobler than education and empowerment?
As my year in Worthington nears its end, I would be wildly remiss not to thank the wonderful volunteers that are working so hard with our students and giving them so much to smile and hope for. A tremendous thanks to:
Betty McAllister, Kieth Olson, Lois Larson, Catalina Martinez, Randy Peterson, Sayer Arndt, Braden Clinger, Trequan Wright, Antonio Martinez, Nathan Channoi, Puok Kang, Lucile Darling, Stacy Everding, Rick Dalrymple, Lorraine Van der Veen, Jim Kuhl, Brent Goehring, John Moe, Karen Magyar, Wegen Bune, Josh Good, Kham Thonglyvong, Rahwa Gebrehiwot, Daniel Murillo, Diana Armenta, Terri Lamb, Shari Chapman, Michele Topacio-Peralta, Lola Schrag, Dorothy Hagemann, Tracy Allison, Tarik Amare, Nyiebol Gew, Judy Betz, Antonia Muniz, Paula Laffrenzen, Selvin and Josefina, Arlene Bendix, Shirley Klosterbuer, Shannon Walgrave, Lois Young, Phyllis Van Es, Sharon Talsma, Leona Talsma, Dorothy Vis, Al Vis and Leon Raidel.
If you or anyone you know would like more information about becoming a Literacy Volunteer, please contact Justin Stevenson at 372-1219 or email@example.com. West Learning Center, 117 11th Ave., Worthington 56187.