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Cultural diversity expanded through local volunteers

WORTHINGTON -- The Global Volunteers are no strangers to Worthington. In fact, some seasoned volunteers made their second trip to the community this week.

"I've enjoyed walking around town and seeing the changes," said volunteer Lois Moheban, a Rushmore native and Worthington High School graduate who now lives in St. Paul. "I came to work with the adults and that's my favorite part, and working with the really nice people with Global Volunteers."

She's learned from her students, too. "Today I'm learning some Karen (a language spoken in Burma) from them, and yesterday I learned some Spanish," Moheban added.

Global Volunteers is an international volunteer organization that was established 25 years ago after founders Bud Philbrook and Michele Gran decided to take an unconventional honeymoon -- a trip to Disney World followed by service in an impoverished Guatemalan village.

Today, Global Volunteers travel to more than 100 host communities on six continents. They have visited Worthington several times before, this year working with Adult Basic Education and Even Start classes. The volunteers spent the week helping adults study for their GEDs, helping children with homework and providing conversation for English language learners.

"It's that opportunity to actually talk to someone that gives you more practice," explained Floridian Cindy Murray who is leading her second trip to Worthington. Murray grew up in St. Paul, and her mom still lives there, but what she said brought her back to the state was the community itself. "This is just such a compelling interesting community of what America could be, in terms of an integrated community," she said. "The dedication of the students is really impressive. They could choose to not be here ... but they chose to come here and better themselves."

The origins of the 10 volunteers ranged from Minnesota to Maine to California, and some volunteers, "the mature and wiser," as Murray called them, were in their 70s and 80s.

Hawaii native Thelma Chen has volunteered just about everywhere -- West Virginia, Poland, Vietnam and Brazil to name a few -- but she said she was surprised by the prairie land of southwest Minnesota.

"What impressed me were the flat fields all around," she said. Chen said she's enjoyed every part of her visit, especially the diverse mixture of students with whom she's had the opportunity to work.

"A mixture like that is fantastic," she said. "When I spoke to one woman in Cantonese she said "Oh! You speak my language!" That made my day because I knew I was going to help someone who really needed my help."

"She's a good teacher," said her student, Luis Estrada, of Mexico. "I understand everything."