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2013 Volunteer Spotlights

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

marc and calvinMarc Katz (December 2013)

Marc has been involved with Literacy Advance since March, 2013. He started tutoring an ABE class in August 2013 and has donated more than 80 volunteer hours so far.

Here, Marc is pictured on the right, with his student Calvin.

~ What first brought you to Literacy Advance?

I retired last year after a successful career and feel very blessed. I wanted to be a volunteer in order to give back to others not as fortunate.

I have a passion for reading and was looking for an opportunity in that area. When I found out about Literacy Advance, and the wonderful service provided, I knew this would be an organization that I wanted to be a part of.

~ What do you most enjoy about volunteering?

It really makes me feel wonderful to see someone, like [my student] Calvin, who was unable to read (something most of us take for granted), get excited about his progress as he opens a whole new world, formerly left untapped.

Despite his physical handicaps, Calvin has one of the most positive attitudes of anyone I know. I have stated several times, "If the world had more people with Calvin’s attitude, it would be a much better place".

Calvin has taught me to be more patient, as I am normally very impatient!

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

I get so excited and boast about my incredible experience with Literacy Advance, and how amazing the feeling is to work with my student and the incredible feeling of satisfaction. I highly recommend this to anyone who would like to contribute to erase our literacy problems.

~ Any anecdote you would like to share with us about your volunteer experience?

Calvin has told me many stories, including several times when he has ridden the Metro bus to class, and when practicing his ABC's out loud, someone nearby will invariably ask what he is doing. He has proudly exclaimed "I am going to school to learn how to read".

We have gotten along so well since almost the very beginning of our time together, in April, and Calvin has stated several times that he is not embarrassed and has come too far to quit now!

I also love it when Calvin comes to class and cannot wait to show me a grocery list he has prepared or the stores or road signs he has noticed.


robert hasty
Robert Hasty (November 2013)

Robert has been involved with Literacy Advance since February, 2013. He started tutoring ESL classes in March 2013 and has donated more than 90 volunteer hours so far.

~ What first brought you to Literacy Advance?

One Saturday morning back in January, 2013, I left the house to go to the golf range to practice my swing. On the way, I happened to hear Larry Dierker, the well-known former pitcher and manager of the Houston Astros, on the car radio, talking about Literacy Advance and its need for volunteers.

I arrived at my destination, and then actually sat in the car for several minutes to hear the entire presentation. "I could do that!" I said to myself. Both my grandmother Arlene and my great-aunt Hazel Hasty were teachers in one-room schoolhouses in Maine, way, way back in the day. "So it has to be in my blood," I thought.

Fortunately, I made a note of the name and URL that Mr. Dierker gave out on the air. Days later, when I got around to checking into it, I saw the quality of the professional organization and facilities and corporate sponsorship at Literacy Advance, and was convinced that I should inquire about volunteering.

~ What do you most enjoy about volunteering?robert hasty

Being retired from "regular" work, the entire experience is an enjoyment – you want to get there early before every session. Enjoyment number one has to be the interaction with the ESL students.

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

Don't expect simply to spend two hours following a script every session and then be done with it. Preparation is required. And you will need to explore ways to maintain the interest of your particular class, as a group and as individuals.

~ Any resources you would recommend to others?

Literacy Advance has an abundance of fine resources on board. The library and computer lab are superb. And there is much to be found online as well. Then there is your own experience, imagination and effort, all of which are required to help any plan succeed.

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

At each level, we want to develop skills in all the ways the language is used – reading, listening, speaking and writing. And to keep it interesting, we try to do that in several contexts such as looking at a little history, something about science/technology, some literature, some geography/travel, even music and poetry, in addition to some basic "coping with life" skills in our American English-speaking environment.

~ What do you recommend for our reading list?

Our late former President Harry S. Truman famously said "There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know." Well… Mr. Truman knew nothing about DNA or Twitter, did he?

Still, he did have a point to take seriously. From my limited shelf, I highly recommend two books about history, both published in 2001 – April 1865: The Month That Saved America by Jay Winik and Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World by Margaret MacMillan. I can't possibly write synopses here, but very good ones can be found with only a click or two of the mouse. About mice Mr. Truman did know, of course, but not the kind you click.


julie silverbergJulie Silverberg (October 2013)

QUESTION: How many countries are there in the world? (Scroll down to test your knowledge.)

In the ten years that our superstar tutor Julie has dedicated to ESL students at Literacy Advance Bay Area, she has taught 850+ lessons to students from a total of 52 countries! Even if you didn't know the answer to our question above, we hope you're as impressed as we are!

(ANSWER: The US State Department recognizes 194 countries).

~ What first brought you to Literacy Advance?

I was looking for a challenging and meaningful volunteer opportunity.  Literacy Advance seemed to be a natural choice consistent with my interests and experiences.  As a child, some of my happiest times were reading together as a family and visiting the library. 

My father was an ABE tutor in England.  Later, I moved to Belgium but did not initially speak the language, so I was grateful for the French classes that were available to all. 

As an immigrant to America myself I experienced many of the assimilation challenges.  Although my husband is American, and I came from a country with a similar culture, and English was my first language, there were many aspects of life here that were very different.  So I felt I could empathize with the learners and use my experiences to help them.

~ What changes have you seen over ten years?

Literacy Advance has grown and matured.  There are more classes and more students.  An exciting development has been the recent influx of students at the Bay Area location.  Students are being better served with a greater variety of classes being offered, and an increase in testing, monitoring and customizing.  

A constant has been the unfailing appreciation, encouragement and support of the Bay Area staff.  They have consistently sought to help me and to enhance my efforts while respecting my ideas and preferences.

~ What do you most enjoy about volunteering?

I particularly enjoy watching students grow and seeing their lives expand as their English improves.  It is very rewarding when students race into class because they can’t wait to tell me what they have just accomplished.  I also really enjoy watching new students overcome their self-consciousness and gain enough confidence in their English skills to begin actively participating in class activities.

~ What inspires you?

It is the students who face the most difficult challenges.  I am most inspired by the students who have left behind what they believe to be an intolerable situation in their home country and have come to America with nothing, needing to start their lives over again.

~ Any resources you recommend to tutors?

I am still looking for the perfect ones!  I use a large variety of ever-changing resources, depending on the needs of my students at any given time. It’s amazing how much is available at the public libraries and via the internet.

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

Volunteering at Literacy Advance continues to captivate me. It is dynamic, challenging and very rewarding.  There are abundant opportunities to be creative.  I have learned new skills and discovered abilities I did not know I had.  The personal satisfaction from volunteering at Literacy Advance provides a tremendous return on the investment of time and effort.

~ Any anecdote you would like to share with us about your volunteer experience?

In one of my first classes I had a student who became very special to me and to the rest of the learners.  Sadly she passed away and many of the students in the class attended her memorial service. I was both humbled and honored when her family asked me to give a eulogy.

~ Funniest moment?

There have been many.  The most recent one that comes to mind was earlier this year when my class decided to hold a surprise birthday party for me.  I later learned that this took several weeks to plan as it involved guests, gifts, balloons, food, cake decorating etc.  I was totally oblivious, although with hindsight at times they had acted rather strangely! 

On the day of the party, just as I was about to start class, a student rushed into the room to tell us we needed to evacuate (to the room where the party was being held) as workmen were coming to repair the ceiling.  I was somewhat perturbed because all the students rushed out of the room and left behind their class materials, journals etc.  How was I going to tutor the lesson without them?

I diligently collected everything up, all the while studying the ceiling (which incidentally looked perfectly fine to me) and staggered after them.  We all laughed about my gullibility afterwards!

~ What are you reading right now? 

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. It is an enchanting tale based on an improbable mix of terrorism, opera and romance.

THANK YOU SO MUCH, Julie, for all your support during the last 10 years!

barbara overmanBarbara Overman (September 2013)

As soon as Barbara moved from Denver to Houston in November 2012, she became a volunteer tutor at Literacy Advance. She celebrated her first morning in Houston at the ABE tutor training. Within a week she was matched with an ABE student and started teaching a regular class. In April 2013, Barbara took on an ESL class in addition to her ABE class. She has donated more than 80 volunteer hours so far.

~ What first brought you to Literacy Advance?
In anticipation of moving to Houston from my home state of Colorado, where I've lived most of my life and had been teaching a variety of ESL and Family Literacy classes during the past 6 years, I was eager to get involved with similar work here, So, I began googling volunteer ESL opportunities in Houston, and Literacy Advance was the most impressive and appealing site and organization which I came across.

~ What do you most enjoy about volunteering?
I most enjoy getting to meet the wonderful variety of people from diverse cultural or language backgrounds and whose lives I get to learn about and from… and be a small part of!

~ What inspired you to teach ESL and ABE classes at the same time?
The students! Since I have had time available, while seeking ESL instruction employment, I am thrilled to be able to continue my passion of sharing the challenging English language with foreign adults, but I am equally impressed with fellow Americans who are also wanting, and often needing, to further their education! I really admire adults in their various pursuits of "lifelong learning".

~ What helps you to prepare for each of your classes? What would you recommend to tutors who are considering being involved in two programs at the same time?
Especially at Literacy Advance, the students' goals really help focus the direction of lesson plan preparations in both the ESL and ABE programs. I do use the general lesson planning structures and ideas presented in the Tutor Training sessions as well as the class text books provided as a foundation for each class. However, as I get to know my students better – their strengths, weaknesses and needs – I begin to choose more selectively from the text book what will be most relevant and helpful to them and then look to other sources (such as newspapers, internet articles, grammar texts, games, etc) to enhance and personalize the topics being addressed.

~ What would you say to other people thinking about volunteering?
Volunteering opens your eyes, heart and world! It can be one of the most enriching and rewarding experiences of your life… and, a volunteer almost always receives much more than he or she gives out!

~ Any anecdote you would like to share with us about your volunteer experience?
A fairly general anecdote includes some of our most fun times together in classes when there's been an obvious "disconnect" or misunderstanding of something that either the teacher or a student is trying to express or describe. Usually everyone pitches in trying to help explain the term or phrase in question. Once we all finally figure out what the actual meaning was supposed to be, we find ourselves very amused and laughing with each other... NOT at each other!

~ What's your favorite book?
I thrive on biographies which are so inspiriting about how people overcome their unique challenges. Favorites include: Three Cups of Tea and Stones into Schools by Greg Mortenson, The Dressmaker of Kahir Khana by Gayle Lemmon, and am currently enthralled with Now You See It by Cathy Davidson about how the brain science of attention (and our digital age) will transform the way we live, work and learn!


amber criswellAmber Criswell (August 2013)

Amber started volunteering at Literacy Advance Bay Area in September 2011, and has donated more than 110 volunteer hours so far in our Adult Basic Education program. Amber brings so much creativity and enthusiasm to our classrooms, and with a future in teaching and writing, we will be able to say, “Hey, we knew her When!”

What first brought you to Literacy Advance?

I was looking for a new volunteer opportunity and stumbled upon Literacy Advance through my current employer. I had previously volunteered with the Memorial Hermann Southeast radiology department, Meals on Wheels, and various single day programs throughout high school and college. Literacy Advance offered something different; a learning environment where I could develop my teaching skills and help the community. I live fifteen minutes from the Bay Area location; that’s practically my backyard!

~ What do you most enjoy about volunteering?
When I connect with my learner, and I know that our lesson was truly helpful, I feel the best. The room is almost buzzing, and he and I become more of partners and less of tutor/learner; we bounce ideas around, debate definitions and texts, and develop a full-fledged dialogue. Learning flourishes with that level of engagement.

~ What would you say to other people thinking about volunteering?
It’s a wonderful experience! I would definitely recommend Literacy Advance; it’s fulfilling and flexible. Everyone I’ve met has been incredibly nice and passionate about tackling low literacy.

~ Any anecdote you would like to share with us about your volunteer experience?
My learner and I share a love of Indian cuisine; it takes a lot not to get off topic while sharing restaurant recommendations and recipes. Every week I ask him how to pronounce dishes and tell him about my cooking disasters! He really gets a kick out of it.

~ What inspires you?
When I was kid, and learning to read and write, I asked my great uncle to read a book to me. He told me he wasn’t able because he didn’t know how. As a child, my immediate reaction was to try and teach him! He passed away years later, still functionally illiterate. I am a first generation college student and have lived in rural areas in Texas. I have watched family and friends struggle because of a lack of education. I needed to give back, it was never a choice.

~ Any resources you recommend to others?
Smart phones are amazing devices! My learner and I both have iPhones and regularly utilize spelling, vocabulary, and pronunciation apps. They are often free and incredibly useful.

~ What are you reading?
The new issues of Bayou Magazine and Gulf Coast, as well as Amanda Boyden’s sophomore novel Babylon Rolling. A flash fiction piece I recently submitted was accepted for publication in the online literary journal Apocrypha and Abstractions, so I’ve been reading their archives.


sherolyn hancock

Sherolyn Hancock (July 2013)

Sherolyn started volunteering at Literacy Advance in September 2012. Currently, she leads While You’re Waiting classes on a very regular basis. Sherolyn has donated more than 46 volunteer hours so far.

~ What first brought you to Literacy Advance?
My love to teach and passion for meeting new people prompted me to search the Internet for volunteering positions. At Literacy Advance, I am able to do that plus use my degree in Education.

~ What do you most enjoy about volunteering?
It’s a sharing experience with the students in that I get to learn about their language and culture as they do ours. I was taught that it is better to give than to receive. I’ve received more from the students in their smiling faces, hugs and “thanks yous”.

~ What would you say to other people thinking about volunteering?
If you want a rewarding experience, tutoring wonderful students, as well as being with giving people in the offices, give Literacy Advance a try.

~ Why do you enjoy leading While You’re Waiting?
While You’re Waiting is like an acclimatization before they start a regular class. It is important to help them learn about American Culture and the basic things that they need to know. I also enjoy working with the lower levels and watching them learn new things.


Michael Brown (June 2013)

michael brown and classMichael has been a volunteer tutor at Literacy Advance for 3 years and counting! He started as the tutor of an ABE class, and later became an ESL tutor. He’s led While You’re Waiting classes and Conversation classes for ESL students.

Since September 2011, in addition to his tutoring at Wilcrest, Michael has been helping with ESL classes at our partner sites on a regular basis. So far he’s donated more than 685 hours of volunteer time.

In addition to his involvement as a tutor, Michael has participated in Literacy Advance events and has been a great advocate for Literacy Advance.

~ What first brought you to Literacy Advance?

I have always gotten much satisfaction from educating others in my professional and personal life and thus, several years ago, decided to volunteer in the field of literacy. I was aware of Larry Dierker's work with Literacy Advance of Houston and knowing of the high esteem in which he is held by the community, decided to join this organization.

~ What do you most enjoy about volunteering?

Receiving expressions of gratitude from my students is very important to me. Despite all my tutoring experiences, I still harbor doubts over whether I am providing the best possible experience for my students. The appreciation they show on their faces and in their words confirms for me that I am adding value to their lives.

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

Many people I have encountered feel they must have experience as a teacher in order to be an effective tutor. Wrong! We all teach others to some degree every day of our lives and so already have experience in that area. The key ingredients to being a successful tutor is understanding the challenges faced by English language learners, patience, and motivation to help others.

~ You have volunteered at multiple locations (Wilcrest and Outreach sites) – what do you like about tutoring at the different locations?

These types of locations are typically worlds apart. Students can be more comfortable in the neighborhood setting because it is closer to their homes and they may have similar backgrounds to their fellow learners. This can make their learning experiences more relaxing. At the Wilcrest location, there is more diversity of student backgrounds and their excitement for learning feeds off the friendliness and enthusiasm of Literacy Advance staff.

Do you have a story you’d like to share about one of your students?

I'll never forget an eager female student from the Far East whom I taught in a conversation class. She had returned the day before from a trip overseas, come down with a bad cold, and hadn't slept well the night before. But she showed up for class that morning anyway because she didn't want to miss out on the day's lesson.


roslyn metchisRoslyn Metchis (May 2013)

Roslyn has been a volunteer tutor at Literacy Advance for 14 years, and counting! She started as the tutor of an ESL class, and later became a trainer for new tutors. Recently she also started teaching Intensive English classes.

In addition to her involvement as a tutor, Roslyn helps by serving on the new Programs Committee, with Board members and staff, and has been a great advocate for Literacy Advance. This year, outside of her commitments at Literacy Advance, she has been helping to coordinate World Book Night in Houston.

~ What first brought you to Literacy Advance?

When my daughter left for college I realized that I would have extra time so I started several new activities. Literacy Advance is the one I have stayed with for 14 years.


~ What do you most enjoy about volunteering?

The students and what I learn from them. It’s so much fun to see people progressing, feeling more at home in the US and able to do more things in a new language. I also learn many things about English when it is viewed from a new perspective!


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

Definitely give it a try. There are many different things you can do to help out.  Literacy Advance is wonderful about helping you find your niche and where you can be the most helpful.


~ You just started to teach Intensive English classes. What you would say to tutors who are considering being involved in this way?

I really like this [higher] level because I can have more in-depth conversations with the students. I am continually amazed at how much they know, and how much more they want to learn.


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

I asked my students to do a short (4 or 5 sentence) report on different aspects of the Houston Rodeo. They came back with iPod presentations, photos, music selections, picture books, etc! It was fantastic.


tieno lee

Tieno Lee (April 2013)

Tieno started volunteering at Literacy Advance in October 2009, and has donated over 150 volunteer hours so far. He started as the tutor of an ESL class, and recently started teaching WorkReady classes.

~ What first brought you to Literacy Advance?

I left American Red Cross quite some time ago due to my work load. And I felt that I needed to make up for my lost time on volunteering.

~ What do you most enjoy about volunteering?

All along my career path, it has always been profit-driven, but volunteering takes that element out of the equation, and that is a wonderful feeling.

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

Volunteering is not all about giving, self-fulfillment is part of the reward. If it sounds a little selfish, then I am guilty of it... The additional bonus with Literacy Advance is that it provides interaction with nice people from all over the world, communication without borders... priceless.

~ You just started to teach WorkReady classes. What you would say to tutors who are considering being involved in this way?

Showing someone how to fish is the best way to create assets to our society.


Katie Zammito (March 2013)

katie zammitoKatie has been involved as a tutor with Literacy Advance since July 2010. She started by teaching ABE classes, then taught While You’re Waiting classes for ESL students in the summer of 2011. In fall 2011 she became involved with regular ESL classes.

In addition to her regular ESL session she started teaching a pilot class called ESL Literacy, for students just beginning to learn English but also low literate in their own first language. Katie and her class were featured in the last newsletter - if you missed it, you can read about them here.

Katie has donated over 430 volunteer hours so far.

~ What first brought you to Literacy Advance?

I grew up as an expatriate in Mexico and my career took me to many other foreign countries where I was exposed to the challenges of living and working in the context of languages that I didn’t know.  For some time I have wanted to help people in my own country faced with similar challenges. I remember so well what it felt like, as an adult, to have to deal with adult-level issues with language skills at the level of a child. A friend recommended Literacy Advance as a good venue for taking up ESL volunteer work.


~ What do you most enjoy about volunteering?

Working with the students is the most gratifying feature of my volunteering. A close second is working with the staff at Literacy Advance.  The students are serious about learning and are always personally gracious towards me. Their personal stories are very moving and fill me with gratitude for my own good fortune. The staff is so professional and supportive of its volunteers. I came to Literacy Advance knowing nothing about teaching ESL and received the best possible training and support. They are always there for me.


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

If this form of helping others speaks to you at all, Literacy Advance is an extraordinary organization to work with.


~ You are teaching an ESL Literacy class. Can you tell us more about this class and your students?

 My students are very special since they have low literacy in their own language as well as in English. I have been working with the same students for over a year now and their progress is phenomenal. I see their self-confidence increasing with every class. They support one another, offering advice, gentle correction and compliments like “Your English is good!”


~ What advice you would give to a tutor who wants to teach an ESL Literacy class?

Follow your heart and the guidance of the staff. Deep gratitude and fulfillment await you.



norman schneider

Norman Schneider (February 2013)

Norman has been involved as a While You’re Waiting volunteer tutor with Literacy Advance since December, 2010, and started teaching ABE classes this January. He has donated more than 110 volunteer hours so far.

~ What first brought you to Literacy Advance?

I came to Literacy Advance as a neighbor highly recommended it; she herself was volunteering, while she was still working full time at MD Anderson.


~ What do you most enjoy about volunteering?

Volunteering is like a dream come true, you get a chance to give back to others for all the blessings that have been given to us. I love to interact with our students who come from all over the world to learn English. Learning English allows them to have a chance at a better life for themselves & their families.


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

I would strongly urge anyone who wants the enjoyment of helping people help themselves. To get a chance to meet courageous people who have left their own country to start a new life & learn a new language.

Our students are very special people.


liz adamsLiz Adams (January 2013)

Liz started volunteering at Literacy Advance in January 2012, and has donated over 230 volunteer hours so far. She started as the tutor of an ESL class, and later became a trainer for new tutors. Recently she also started teaching WorkReady classes. In addition to her involvement as a tutor, Liz helps in the office and has been a great advocate for Literacy Advance at fairs and events.

~ What first brought you to Literacy Advance?

I saw a volunteer post about a need for tutors at Literacy Advance but couldn't bring myself to volunteer because I wasn't bilingual. I had three years of French in high school and tried to use it in Paris years later but was always told to speak English. The only Spanish that I know is" Where is the bathroom?"

But Literacy Advance said that they could train me without any problem. It was the beginning of an amazing journey.


~ What do you most enjoy about volunteering?

The most enjoyable part is working with students, volunteers and staff. They are people with so many gifts to offer. It brings such rewards to extend a helping hand to people trying to master the English language or to improve their literacy skills. Their success is my success. If they don't feel successful at something, it’s time to re-teach.


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

Please volunteer. We are ambassadors of help and hope to those who need us. Cultural differences lessen as we realize that we share the same planet and have the same dreams. Help make volunteering and goodwill contagious as literacy needs are everywhere – become a part. I want to encourage, inspire, teach, and respect.


You just started to teach WorkReady classes. What you would say to tutors who are considering being involved in this way?

I love to teach my WorkReady class. As always I wondered if this is the right thing for me since I am retired, but I have the voice of many work experiences. I know how to play the part of the difficult boss. I also know that they may hit some rough spots in the road, but the most valuable lesson is to pick yourself up, dust off, and keep going. As soon as I started teaching this series, I realized how much fun it was to teach with videos. When my students tell me that they feel better prepared to enter the job market and find employment, it will be the greatest gift that I could receive. If one person has a better life because of me, I will be happy.



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