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Volunteers from diverse backgrounds come to town

WORTHINGTON -- Peggy is a retired Marine and nurse from California who used to leap out of planes.

Kim is a cab driver from West Virginia who boxed professionally.

Ann is an attorney from the Twin Cities area who works with people in prison.

Matt is a single man from Austin, now living in St. Paul.

Linda lives on a farm in New York.

The five Global Volunteers members who arrived in Worthington to teach conversational English at the Nobles County Collaborative and Prairie Lakes Center this week come from very diverse backgrounds. But they have one thing in common.

"We want to help other people," said Linda Knataitis, a grandmother from New York who was inspired to join the organization after watching her daughter serve in Teach For America, a group that sends teachers to work in schools having difficulty in finding teachers.

On Tuesday at the Nobles County Collaborative, volunteers helped local minorities anxious to improve their English skills. They did it by showing photographs of famous Minnesotans -- Charles Schulz, Drs. William and Charles Mayo, Patty Berg, Bob Dylan, Walter Mondale and Sinclair Lewis among them -- and explaining what made them famous.

Soon, they had their audience repeating the phrase, "Bob Dylan is a famous singer."

Global Volunteers is a St. Paul-based organization that sends workers worldwide promoting its stated mission of peace through mutual understanding. Though they are not required to know more than one language or have any background in teaching, members enthusiastically helped Worthington area residents brush up on their English on Tuesday.

"It's really just about being patient," Knataitis said. "Today I was explaining 'lift.' I ended up lifting the chair and placing it on the table."

Since Knataitis has no background in teaching and speaks no language other than English, she enjoys using pictures to get her message across.

"I've been very surprised that many of them can read English even though they can't speak it," she added.

Knataitis said she enjoys seeing how students experience the diverse backgrounds of the Global Volunteers. Kim, for instance, a cab driver for the last 17 years, has a distinct Southern drawl that students react to.

"They know about California, where Peggy's from, because a lot of them have come from there or have family members there. But when I say I'm from New York State, they instantly go, 'New York City.' But, no, I don't live in New York City. I live a long way from there."

Peggy Burnett has a particularly impressive history. The former Marine and retired nurse -- now a great-grandmother -- was the only woman in her reconnaissance outfit. She also worked in a facility for the criminally insane in California, and since 1996 has been a member of the environmental group Earthwatch. Her causes have taken her all over the globe.

"These projects gave me a diversion from my job, because working with the criminally insane can be very taxing. This helps to balance my life," she said.

Global Volunteers provides not only balance, but perspective.

"You just have to have a willingness to share," she said.

Worthington Community Education Council director Jerry Fiola said Tuesday that interest is building locally for Global Volunteers.

"This is about the sixth year they've been here. Initially, we weren't sure what to make of it," he said.

But now Fiola is contemplating a new effort to make the Global Volunteers effort a local one, too. He thinks it may be a good idea to involve local service clubs with the kind of outreach the Volunteers are known for.

"It reminds us that we ought to be doing more of this locally. It helps create bonds of friendship," he said.

Doug Wolter

Doug Wolter is the Daily Globe sports editor. He served as sports reporter, then sports editor, news editor and finally managing editor at the Daily Globe for 22 years before leaving for seven years to work as night news editor at the Mankato Free Press in Mankato. Doug now lives in Worthington with his wife, Sandy. They have three children and seven grandchildren. Doug, retired after a lengthy career in fast-pitch softball, enjoys reading, strumming his acoustic guitar and hanging around his grandchildren. He also writes books on fiction. Two of his stories, "The Genuine One" and "The Old Man in Section 129" have been distributed through a national publisher.

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