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2012 Volunteer Spotlights

Use the links below to see specific people, or browse at your leisure!

kevin kingKevin King (December 2012)

Kevin has been an ABE tutor with Literacy Advance since November, 2010, and has donated over 300 volunteer hours so far. His student, Herman, shows great dedication to his learning and has one of the strongest long-term attendance records of any Literacy Advance student.

~ What first brought you to Literacy Advance?

I have learned the value of community service in my life and the satisfaction of working towards my personal mission. I'd had a dream of teaching literacy for about five years before stumbling on Literacy Advance. When I saw you trained and set tutors up with Adult Basic Education classes, I knew Literacy Advance and I had overlapping missions.

~ What do you most enjoy about volunteering?

Helping the dedicated learner that I have been paired with.

~ What would you say to other people thinking about volunteering?

Satisfaction in your life will increase if you find a talent to share and give it to those who can benefit.

~ Do you have any anecdotes you would like to share with us about your volunteer experience?

It is fun to go to the library with my learner, and pick out stories at his reading level.


front desk helpMelody Valencia (November 2012)

Melody (right) has been involved as an administrative volunteer with Literacy Advance since March 2012, helping at the Wilcrest front desk and doing other office tasks very regularly and dependably. She is also a great advocate for Literacy Advance at fairs and outreach events. Melody has donated over 185 volunteer hours so far.

~ What first brought you to Literacy Advance?

Growing up, our parents involved us in projects for the community, inspiring us to give our share, thus the search for volunteering opportunities upon moving to Houston. Being new to the city, a Google search on “volunteer in Houston” led me to a list of non-profit organizations, and being a teacher by profession, Literacy Advance's program caught my attention. Location and timing works for me and learning how organized you are sealed it.


~ What do you most enjoy about volunteering?

Makes my pillow softer at night :-)

At the end of the day, it feels good to know I've done something for the community, however little it may be. Volunteering gives me the chance to extend a hand, share my knowledge/skills, get to learn something new and meet new friends.


~ What would you say to other people thinking about volunteering?

If you don't know where to start, whether you just want to dip your toes or plunge right in, Literacy Advance is the place to be. Literacy Advance provides varied opportunities to match your interests, skills and availability. They will meet you at your comfort zone and guide you through your journey to volunteerism.


~ You volunteer at Wilcrest very regularly. What makes you come back?

The real question is - Why not? People here appreciate whatever help you can give. They are warm, welcoming and inspiring. It is simply wonderful to work with people who are good at what they do.


steve mccarthy
Steve McCarthy (October 2012)

Steve has been involved as an ABE volunteer tutor with Literacy Advance since January 2012, and has donated over 125 volunteer hours so far.

~ What first brought you to Literacy Advance?

I would have to say it was my third grade teacher Mrs. Reardon, in that she was the individual most responsible for making me an avid reader. Before third grade I was a horrible student (I know this to be true because my Mom has kept everything from our childhood, including my horrible report cards). Mrs. Reardon got me interested in reading, which not only saved me from the embarrassment of flunking out of elementary school, but which helped me eventually to become a good student. I wanted to be a Mrs. Reardon, so to speak, to someone else.


~ What do you most enjoy about volunteering?

Of the many enjoyable things about volunteering at Literacy Advance, I most enjoy the moments when my student and new friend Nicholas discovers something new, and I get to share in that discovery.


~ What would you say to other people thinking about volunteering?

This will be one of the most rewarding things you have ever done. You will be helping to give someone the gift of reading. How many people get to be blessed to be part of something that great?


~ What strategies do you keep in mind when you tutor ABE?

I just try to share my enthusiasm for reading and learning, to be an encourager, and to enjoy time together with a student who is here because he wants to be here and wants to learn.


~ Do you have any anecdotes you would like to share with us about your volunteer experience?

Because Nicholas plans on going to school and getting a degree in culinary arts, we work often on reading, spelling and doing fractions, using actual recipes. Do you realize how hungry you get after two hours of reading recipes?!


phyllis bass

Phyllis Bass (September 2012)

Phyllis has been involved in our Outreach Program as an ESL volunteer tutor since January, 2012, and has donated more than 90 volunteer hours so far.

In addition to her regular class session at Scenic Woods Library, Phyllis will be helping with ESL classes at Edgewood Elementary starting in September.

~ What first brought you to Literacy Advance?

My mother volunteered for various organizations in the past and I wanted to follow in her footsteps. I wanted a challenging, long-term opportunity with an organization that really makes an impact. Moreover, I needed to do something that would allow me to share my strengths.

I searched for volunteer opportunities and found Literacy Advance online. I was excited because I love the English language. In my work life, one of my responsibilities was to train employees and I also did a lot of public speaking. I felt that tutoring would be the perfect opportunity for me to blend both passions.


~ What do you most enjoy about volunteering?

What I enjoy most about volunteering is that I have the potential to help change someone's life. The best part though is that the students have given me more than I give them. When I leave Scenic Woods Library, I have a feeling that I cannot describe. I attribute that feeling to both volunteering and my wonderful students.

I have learned so much about myself through this experience.


~ What would you say to other people thinking about volunteering?

I would say that volunteering is such a heartwarming experience. It takes so little to give to others and I promise that you will get a bountiful return. I have a 1 hour commute to get to class each week and I hate driving. Knowing that I get so much from giving back makes each and every mile worth it and enjoyable.


~ Tell us a little bit about your experiences tutoring at an Outreach partner location.

My experience tutoring at an outreach partner has been wonderful. Having the Literacy Advance staff's assistance and support alleviates that feeling of being disconnected from the main campus.

I tutor at Scenic Woods Library and their staff is amazing and incredibly friendly! They go out of their way to make sure that the classroom is comfortable and that I have everything needed for class. They even help the students in their confidence-building exercises each week, which is invaluable.

The most important aspect of tutoring at an outreach location is that the students live in the area, which makes it easy for them to attend classes.


~ What strategies do you keep in mind or go by since you usually tutor a multi-level class?

Teaching a multi-level class is challenging. It’s important to find fun, captivating lessons that each student will enjoy, while satisfying their various educational needs. Also, I ask students what they want to learn, so that I can incorporate it into their lessons.


~ Do you have any anecdotes you would like to share with us about your volunteer experience?

There was a level 1 student in my class last semester who neither spoke, nor understood English (or so I thought). Each time that I spoke to her, she simply smiled, but never spoke.

I started working with her on the alphabet and assigned her weekly homework and she did well.  One day I was working with levels 3 - 5 students to identify the subject, verb and punctuation within sentences. I wrote sentences on the board that were somewhat complicated, just to challenge them.

One sentence proved to be a little too challenging for everyone. After everyone took an unsuccessful attempt at the sentences, I asked the level 1 student if she would like to try. I asked her because I noticed that she was paying very close attention while I was teaching. She walked to the board, underlined the subject and verb and then correctly punctuated the sentence. I wrote another sentence on the board just for her and she did the same thing again.

I lost my composure and began to cry. I cried because I realized that she can speak English and that she is a highly intelligent woman, however she lacked the confidence to speak, so instead, she smiled. I gained my composure and told the class that from that day forward, we would work on confidence and speaking.

Because of that experience, with the blessing of the library staff, students had to choose a different library staff member to speak to each week. They said, "Good morning, I am here for my English class. Have a good day." Before leaving, they said something like, "My English class is over." They tell what they learned during class and wish their library staff member a good day or week. They were also required to choose a subject and speak to the class, with confidence, each week.

The class really came alive as a result of those exercises. Speaking and confidence building are still the cornerstones of each lesson.


john bobbit and class

John Bobbit (August 2012)

John (in red shirt, seen here in 2011 celebrating 1,000 hours of volunteer tutoring!) has been involved as a volunteer tutor with Literacy Advance since February, 2003. Since 2007 he has been helping us at our partner sites, leading ESL classes.

~ What first brought you to Literacy Advance?

Work first brought me to Literacy Advance. I was Senior Trainer for the Water Division of the City of Houston and found that some employees had a hard time with language skills. I came to Literacy Advance to learn how to help with that problem.

~ What do you most enjoy about volunteering?

Light bulbs. We all joke about seeing the light bulb go on. We may joke, but those of us in front of a class know how true it is. When someone, or a class, suddenly gets the concept the light bulb turns on and stony faces suddenly shine. What a great feeling!


~ What would you say to other people thinking about volunteering?

Try it, you'll love it!


~ Tell us a little bit about your experiences tutoring at an Outreach partner location...

Space, diversity and appreciation. I have a room for my classes, big enough to hold everyone comfortably. Although my students have all been Hispanic, they're open to everyone in the area who wants to learn English. And the appreciation you get, from the students, the people at the facility and the community, is like getting a check for a million dollars, only better.


~ What strategies do you keep in mind or go by since you usually tutor a multi-level class?

Be prepared for anything. Be flexible. Give lots of praise. Praise is especially important. It's like Mary Poppins said about sugar with medicine. Praise the answer (even though it may not be quite accurate), tempered with "Now let's see how we can make that a little better."

Also explain to the whole class how they're helping each other.


~ Do you have any anecdotes you would like to share with us about you volunteer experience?

No anecdotes, but don't be afraid to discuss anything that comes up. Realize the class wants to learn and if they have enough confidence in you to bring things up that concern them, then the more experiences (knowledge) you can provide the better it is for them.

And that's the volunteering that was.


maxine stefanoMaxine Stefano (July 2012)

Maxine started volunteering at Literacy Advance in August 2011, and has donated over 230 volunteer hours so far. She started as a tutor of an ESL class, and later agreed to pilot the new Work Ready classes for ESL students - a program in which she has become an expert! Right now, she's mainly involved in While You’re Waiting classes and leading training for new tutors.

~ What first brought you to Literacy Advance?

I was looking for an opportunity to volunteer during non-business hours that would provide immediate gratification and a social outlet. Literacy is such an important key for learning and advancement, and adults who recognize they have a need can be very self-motivated and motivating.

I found the Literary Advance website and agreed with its mission statement: "Transforming lives and communities through the doorway of literacy." I liked that the organization was a non-profit, offering flexible scheduling at locations all over town, tutor training and ongoing support, and a chance to try out different kinds of volunteering. I liked the potential to make a difference right away, without giving up my paycheck.

~ What do you most enjoy about volunteering?

The flexibility, continually learning new things myself, and meeting so many interesting, smart, courageous people!

Volunteering at Literacy Advance has been a smorgasbord of fun! You can try out, mix and match, and do as little or as much volunteering as your interests and circumstances permit. You can tutor one-on-one Adult Basic Education, ESL classes with a few or up to 15 learners, train new tutors, and help out in the office. You can volunteer several hours a week, once a week, once every couple of months, or continually with back-to-back sessions on a set schedule.

There's a great social aspect to it, too. There are regular tutor socials and fun events to go to throughout the year. I've met positive-minded learners, tutors, and staff from all walks of life, and have made some great friends.

~ What would you say to other people thinking about volunteering?

Try it! There is no pressure to commit. The organization prepares and supports you, and the staff is attentive and appreciative (understatement). You will definitely learn something new, meet interesting people, and grow in ways that will surprise you.

Thank you so much, Maxine!

volunteer spotlight libbi smithLibbi Smith (June 2012)

Libbi started volunteering at Literacy Advance in January 2011, and has donated over 400 volunteer hours so far. She's mainly involved in the Development department, helping with fundraising events and as a wonderful and enthusiastic literacy advocate at fairs. As well as being a regular office helper, she is often to be found assisting at Family Literacy Nights.

~ What first brought you to Literacy Advance?

After retirement, I wanted something to do that was meaningful and where I had a sense of contributing to help make a difference. Literacy Advance sounded like just the opportunity I was looking for!

~ What do you most enjoy about volunteering?

I was fortunate to find the perfect role where I can use my skills and have fun at the same time. Helping with events and working with the Development department couldn't be more satisfying. I have made some very special friends and am impressed by such a warm and friendly staff.

~ What would you say to other people thinking about volunteering?

Literacy Advance is a place where every day is filled with success. You see people from all cultures joining together with common goals - to communicate - to learn a new language - to read. You see volunteers who are committed to making it all possible with their individual style and dedication. There are so many ways to be a part of such a wonderful organization - everyone can find their niche.

Thank you so much, Libbi!

volunteer spotlight

Ian Sack (May 2012)

Ian started tutoring at Literacy Advance in 2004. A very committed ESL tutor, he donated over 1,100 volunteer hours between 2004 and 2011.

Ian recently decided to continue his volunteering at a location closer to his home. We're sorry to lose him but so grateful for the difference he made in so many lives!

~ What brought you to Literacy Advance?

I wanted to help others, and one day volunteer for the Peace Corps. I thought this would be good experience.

~ What do you enjoy most about volunteering?

The rapport I developed with my students, learning about different cultures, and seeing the improvement made by students.

~ What would you say to other people thinking about volunteering?

Teaching others energizes you, and you get tremendous satisfaction seeing your students grow in confidence and ability.

Thank you so much, Ian!

kristina irelandKristina Ireland (April 2012)

Kristina has been tutoring at Literacy Advance since October of 2007. A very committed tutor, Alumni group helper, and events volunteer, she has donated over 750 volunteer hours so far. As an ESL tutor Kristina is highly involved at our partner sites, helping to make these classes at offsite locations a great success. An inspiring and enthusiastic New Tutor Trainer, Kristina probably trained many of you reading this!

~ What brought you to Literacy Advance?

Looking back on it now, I realize that so many things nurtured that spark of interest in literacy and tutoring. My family lived in Japan when my sister and I were in middle school and we had the opportunity to "teach" English at summer camp. All that was required of us was to speak English and have fun!

Then, while in college, my parents were stationed in Japan again, and during summer break I led a class and used an ESL conversation book my Mom loaned me. It wasn't until a decade and a half passed that I pursued tutoring. Mired in the pursuit of a job that was probably going to be just like the last ones disheartened me, and my wise younger sister encouraged me to take a break from writing and sending out resume after resume. Her suggestion that I volunteer and help someone else was the best advice I have ever taken! I wanted a job that made someone's life better and I found it: helping adults learn English.

~ What do you enjoy most about volunteering?

The Holy Spirit gave me the gift of serving others for the kingdom of God and it is a joy to help others. And it's an honor because the learners' lives really are changing class by class and week by week as they practice conversation, pronunciation, and listening. It's a responsibility I take seriously because I'm just one of many tutors the learners will encounter in their lifetime and I want to give the learners a solid foundation that they can use wherever they find themselves learning. The learners are so earnest and hungry for English and it's an exciting charge to construct lesson plans that keep the class motivated, challenged, interested and moving forward. Of course, the staff at Literacy Advance makes it so easy and enjoyable to do this!

~ What would you say to other people thinking about volunteering?

Sign up for a volunteer workshop right away! If you have the heart to help someone else, let nothing stop you! It's so much fun to meet the learners at the beginning and get to know them as the weeks go by and it's just so rewarding to see them gain confidence as they read, write and speak more and more. Literacy Advance gives me freedom in the classroom and the staff gives lots of support through resources, lesson ideas and access so I always feel prepared. Tutoring is the best job I've ever had!

Thank you so much, Kristina!

Ahmed HammadAhmed Hammad (March 2012)

Ahmed has been volunteering at Literacy Advance since October of 2010. He continues to be a very committed tutor, Student Orientation leader, and office volunteer and has donated over 400 volunteer hours so far. As an ESL tutor Ahmed is highly involved in Special Classes such as Computer, Conversation and While You’re Waiting classes.

Ahmed's dedication to volunteering won him the Halliburton Hometown Hero award in 2011 - see the photos from the award presentation on Facebook.

~ What brought you to Literacy Advance?
A friend told me about it. At the time I was looking for volunteering opportunities and this fit the bill beautifully.

~ What do you enjoy most about volunteering?
The knowledge that I am teaching people a skill that will open so many doors. Literacy enables people to improve their lives in a way that few (if any) other skills can.

~ What would you say to other people thinking about volunteering?
I would say do it. I think some people are nervous about volunteering, but they shouldn't be. The students are wonderful, the environment is great, and the most important skill -- being sensitive to the needs of students -- is a given for anyone who volunteers.


Sabrina Ruiz

Sabrina Ruiz (February 2012)

Sabrina has been tutoring at Literacy Advance since October of 2010. A very committed tutor, tutor trainer and volunteer, Sabrina donated over 500 volunteer hours in 2011.

~ What brought you to Literacy Advance?

I was looking for volunteer opportunities to teach English and found Literacy Advance while doing my research. My background is in corporate training with a focus on leadership and communication; teaching English to adults was a natural fit.

~ What do you enjoy most about volunteering?
My passion is helping others live up to their potential and be better at whatever it is they are trying to do, especially communication. It is very rewarding to see students becoming more confident and better communicators as they master English. I also consider myself a life-long learner. We learn together! It is a gift to be able to see the impact one makes every day! The additional benefit is that I get to learn every time I tutor!

Volunteering at Literacy Advance has changed my life. This experience has been so rewarding that I am changing my career path to include ESL when I move back to California.

~ What would you say to other people thinking about volunteering?
Every person should consider volunteering. There is nothing more rewarding than giving back to others and helping them live up to their potential. Communication is the key to understanding others who may be very different than you. Volunteering is a chance to learn to communicate with diverse individuals and share your gifts with others.


William Madigan
William Madigan (January 2012)

Bill has been tutoring with the Literacy Advance Outreach Program since February 2011. A very committed tutor, Bill donated over 175 volunteer hours in 2011 and continues to tutor in 2012.

~ What brought you to Literacy Advance?

I was volunteering with the Alliance for Multicultural Community Services when an opportunity to tutor a group of Arabic-speaking refugees arose, in collaboration with Literacy Advance. That is how I became aware of the important work being done by Literacy Advance.

~ What do you enjoy most about volunteering?
What I enjoy most about volunteering is the interaction with the students. I have heard people who are involved in some sort of volunteer work say that they get more out of it than the folks they are trying to help, but I did not truly understand what they meant until I experienced it first hand. The reward is a calm, blissful feeling coming from the knowledge that what one is trying to do is good, worthwhile, and relevant. When I am with the students that is how I feel.

~ What would you say to other people thinking about volunteering?
To someone considering volunteering, I would say follow your bliss and take the plunge. If you have an interest in ESL, you should definitely try it. I am taciturn by nature, and the idea of conducting a class is not a natural thing for me; yet I find it very rewarding. There is also a considerable level of comfort provided by the Literacy Advance staff. As an outreach tutor, I rely on Anna for resources and advice, and Enedina and Kathleen for outreach support. Working with the truly nice folks at Literacy Advance is certainly another benefit of volunteering.


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