WORTHINGTON - To mark National Volunteer Week, the Southwest Adult Basic Education (ABE) program in Worthington recognized people Wednesday who have dedicated time to help newcomers learn the language and culture of their new home.


Carolina Contreras, ABE literacy volunteer coordinator, opened Wednesday’s ceremony by telling the story of a young woman who came to the United States at age 19 with no English skills. The young woman then moved to Minnesota and met a volunteer, Tracy, who changed her life. The young woman Contreras was talking about was herself, and she added that the volunteer not only helped her improve her English, but also understand and love American culture.


“You may not know it yet, but each of you are Tracy,” Contreras told the six volunteers sitting in the first row of the West Learning Center gymnasium.


The ABE program has more than 200 students enrolled in its morning, afternoon and evening classes. A staff of approximately 13 teachers and 12 active volunteers assists students in multiple English levels. In addition, classes that prepare students to take the U.S. citizenship exam are also available through the program.


“We have from 20 to 30 students in a class and sometimes it’s overwhelming for the teachers,” Contreras said. “I am so thankful that we have so many volunteers - they give up their time to help students.”


Nancy Marco is one of the volunteers recognized Wednesday, as she has put in 91 hours of service since July 2016. She helps advanced English students with grammar and pronunciation and assists at citizenship classes.


“I have a degree in English and at some point I was considering teaching, so I thought this would be a chance to use those skills,” Marco said.


Marco has made a difference in students’ lives, but she noted that the learning process has been mutual. She said she has learned about cultures around the world and of the hardships many of students have endured before arriving in the U.S.

“It has been a total exposure to other cultures,” Marco said. “Just from conversations and things they talk about, it’s a whole new world that opens up to you as a volunteer - things you would never hear before or think otherwise.”


Also during Wednesday’s ceremony, several ABE students read pieces they’e written on a variety of topics, most explaining their transition to the United States to the audience. Their writing will be published in “Journeys,” an anthology book of ABE students’ experiences, later this year.


For more information about volunteering with Southwest ABE, contact Carolina Contreras at 376-6105.