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2015 Volunteer Spotlights

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

Jim Hunter

jim hunter and classJim Hunter first got involved with Literacy Advance in 2008, and just this last January he saw a need for English as a Second Language tutors at Edgewood Elementary, and has volunteered there for back-to-back classes. Jim is diligent about keeping open communication with the staff about what’s happening in class. On the rare occasions when Jim needs to miss a class himself, he ensures there is a substitute tutor so his students stay on track. Jim humbly says the students tutor each other, but we know they keep coming back because he has given them confidence.

Why do you volunteer at Literacy Advance?

I currently volunteer as an ESL tutor at an Outreach Location, and think that the Literacy Advance mission statement: “Transforming lives and communities through the doorway of literacy” is compelling. Literacy Advance is well organized in supporting tutors by providing useful training, lesson materials, and staff support.

What inspires you?

I am inspired by opportunities to help people who are striving to improve their lives through education, and the enthusiasm of the students.

What do you most enjoy about volunteering?

I do enjoy interaction with the students.  They are typically fun and friendly people, with great attitudes. It’s also interesting to learn about their cultures, and to hear about their backgrounds.

What strategies do you keep in mind when you tutor?

I’ve learned that it works best to let the students tutor and help one another. They’re always happy to do that! I do have difficulty in tutoring students who know very little English, and I depend heavily on other students who know some English to help with that. 

What would you say to other people thinking about volunteering?

I was intimidated when I first started tutoring. I even had a student, while discussing the meaning of the word “nervous”, tell me in a friendly way that she could see that I was nervous during our first class together. I have learned that the students understand and accept that the tutors are volunteers, not professional instructors, and they are understanding and supportive when they see tutors struggle with communicating or providing an explanation that they understand. They often “break the ice” for the tutor!

You’ve been volunteering for about five years! What keeps you motivated?

I am motivated because I am fortunate to have “free time” and try to make the best use of that time, the students are appreciative of the opportunity to work on their English, and Literacy Advance makes volunteering easy to do.

Please share an anecdote about your volunteer experience. 

Just this past week, my class and I enjoyed a wonderful Thanksgiving brunch organized and prepared by my class at Edgewood Elementary School (picture above). We enjoyed delicious home cooked food, and shared with the supportive Edgewood staff.

Thank you, Jim!

George Richeson

george richesonGeorge has been a tutor for quite a while, delivering more than 100 Adult Basic Education lessons so far, at Literacy Advance Bay Area. He is one of our most regular and consistent tutors.

One of his students credits George for contributing to his getting promoted at work and to helping him “be a better person to my family and church.” George was also kind enough to talk a little about his experiences as a tutor at our recent Bay Area Open House.

It’s obvious that George is motivated by seeing others realize their potential, and by learning himself!

Tell us about your volunteer experience at Literacy Advance.

When I moved to Houston, I did a Google search for literacy tutoring opportunities in the Clear Lake area, and found Literacy Advance of Houston.  My first assignment came after my training at the Wilcrest campus, and I was matched with a student in the ABE [Adult Basic Education] program.  I found this student to be pretty literate, but needing some help with punctuation and grammar since he was writing a novel!  My work with him has been a lot of fun: I’ve reviewed punctuation and grammar that I hadn’t thought about since high school (I just attended my 55th reunion).

What have you learned, or what has surprised you as a tutor?

Since then, I’ve been assigned a second student who is working in the petrochemical industry, and wishes to advance.  He needs assistance in studying for his Boilermaker certification, so I’ve been learning Boilermaking in addition to grammar & punctuation.  Included in his lessons is math, engineering drawing, measurement, physics, and other disciplines.  Since my college major was in math & physics, I enjoy working on his certification, and I’m learning about the petrochemical industry in addition.

What do you enjoy about volunteering?

I enjoy volunteering for several reasons: one selfish, the other fulfilling.  The selfish one is that it keeps my mind sharp, and is a learning experience for me.  The fulfilling one is that it makes me feel good when I see growth in my students.

What would you tell someone who is thinking about becoming a volunteer?

There are a lot of opportunities in tutoring here at Literacy Advance, such as helping a student to learn to read, or an English-challenged person to become more proficient in English.  Just encouraging a student is a big part of the effort here.

One experience I had in Brenham before moving here was helping a man who never learned to read, to be able to read at the 5th grade level.  That was such a rewarding experience, and that could easily apply to folks in this area.  I encourage anyone that is considering tutoring to give it a try; I believe you’ll really enjoy it, (and probably learn some things yourself).

Thank you, George!

Emily Ellisor

emily with studentsBy day, Emily Ellisor is a professional teacher in one of the area’s largest school districts; by night, she is a first-year volunteer tutor at Literacy Advance. But don’t let Emily’s caring and compassionate nature fool you, she attacks Houston’s literacy issue with superhero-like enthusiasm! Emily uses a laser focus to help her students identify needs and fill gaps in critical life skills, and she joins forces with other tutors to help students eradicate language barriers. You may just as easily find Emily’s class working through grammar drills in their regular room at Wilcrest, or conquering fundamental computer skills, circling the internet, or seeking out jobs while in the Cameron Computer Lab. We’re very pleased to share some insight from Emily with you this month.

~ Why do you volunteer at Literacy Advance?

As a teacher I see how language impacts student/parent/teacher relationships. I understand the need to want to communicate but lacking the ability to do that. I was in a parent conference one day and the mother was talking to me about her adult English classes. It registered with me that I could make a difference not only with my students but with adults learning English as well. I did a little research and loved the atmosphere and the vision of Literacy Advance.

~ What inspires you?

My students – both at work, and at Literacy Advance. They never stop trying and working. They are the hardest working people I know.

~ What do you most enjoy about volunteering?

I love when a student gets something. We work on many different things at tutoring, from verb tenses, to conversations, to signing up for an email account. When someone understands something or achieves something, they are so grateful. Their gratefulness keeps me motivated.

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

I always go in with a plan, but I try to be as flexible as possible. Often what I have planned gets tossed out the window because several students want help with a resume, or a job application, or navigating a website. I am there to help them feel successful, so I definitely just go with their needs!

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

Do it! I haven’t regretted one moment spent in the classroom. The staff is very helpful, the other tutors are willing to collaborate, and your students keep you motivated.

~ Please share an anecdote about your volunteer experience.

One of the best feelings was receiving an email from a student. She came one class and asked if I would help her navigate her email. She wanted to know how to send and receive messages from friends and family. We practiced many times that night sending emails to me. Later on during the week I received a thank you email sent all by herself! I was so incredibly excited that she was confident enough to send an email on her own. For me that makes it all worth it.

Thank you so much, Emily!

zach wallerZachary Waller

Zach is a new volunteer tutor, just finishing his first English as a Second Language class at Crosswalk Houston, one of our Outreach partners, and we think he’s a wonderful role model! Zach is driven and reliable, and he consistently communicates with the Literacy Advance staff about his class. This is especially important for our classes at Outreach locations, because we don’t see the students and tutors every day. Zach takes extra care to help the students he tutors, and he tells us about their progress, goals, and needs. The staff and students appreciate Zach so much, we asked him to share a little bit about his motivation and experience so far.

~ Why do you volunteer at Literacy Advance?

I wanted to volunteer at a place that utilized my love of conversation and literature. Literacy Advance fits that role perfectly.

~ What inspires you?

My students’ determination is a constant inspiration. I have dabbled in studying Spanish for years, putting it aside when frustrated, sometimes for weeks at a time. I see that frustration in my students when they struggle, but they make the decision to carry on studying. I hope I can absorb some portion of their courage and persistence.

~ What do you most enjoy about volunteering?

More than anything, volunteering reminds me that I can play an important role in helping others. After a tough day at work, after one’s self-esteem has been battered, it is amazing the relief this kind of personal affirmation provides.

~ What advice do you have for other people thinking about volunteering?

Assuming you don’t have any prior teaching experience (like me), accept that you will be largely unprepared for the needs and challenges presented by your first class. Don’t let that keep you from volunteering.  You and your students will find what works, and I think you’ll enjoy the process.

~ What surprised you the most about volunteering at an Outreach site?

I was surprised by the eagerness of the staff to assist. It is clear to me that everyone working at Crosswalk Houston earnestly believes in the importance of these classes.

~ Please share an anecdote about your volunteer experience.

I mentioned above that tutoring is an affirming experience. One evening, after a horrible day at the office, I came to class feeling less than worthless. In layers, that weight fell away. The distraction of answering my students’ questions changed my focus. Hearing their problems gave me perspective. And, finally, one student’s request to meet on the weekend to practice casual conversation struck straight to the core of my negativity. I knew that, if nothing else, one person truly wanted and needed my help, that I could play an important role in someone’s life. I cannot think of another time in my life where my mood has changed so dramatically for the better.

Thank you so much, Zach!

vineetVineet Majmudar

Vineet first started tutoring with us in June 2010, and has helped beginner and advanced level English as a Second Language (ESL) students with the same enthusiasm and compassion he brings to the larger Bay Area community. He is a dedicated family man with a busy work life, yet joyfully commits to tutoring on a regular basis. Vineet embodies the spirit of community service, and we could not adore him more!

~ Why do you volunteer at Literacy Advance?

The ability to communicate effectively in English is very important if you are staying in this country, and there is no better way than to volunteer at Literacy Advance to help people improve their English speaking skills!  You get to actually help people and see them improve their skills over the duration of the class.

~ What inspires you?

Taking pride in doing everything to the best of my ability, no matter how small or inconsequential it may seem.

~ What do you most enjoy about volunteering?

Getting away from the daily stresses in life, and doing something for someone else, without expecting any rewards in return.

vineet and class
Vineet and his ESL class in the newly renovated United Way Bay Area Service Center, where Literacy Advance has office and classroom space.

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

It depends on the level of the students, but the key is to keep it interesting.  The current class I am tutoring is for advanced level speakers and we are focusing on improving their vocabulary, helping them with idioms, and reading comprehension.

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

Pick something you are passionate about, and it will be a joy to do it.  In fact, it will help you grow as a person, and make you happier! My son, who is in high school, loves to play the violin and we take him to a senior assisted living center every couple of weeks to play it.  He enjoys doing it, and the residents enjoy listening to live music.

~ You’ve been volunteering for about five years! What keeps you motivated?

Volunteering keeps me grounded, allows me to interact with people I would not meet otherwise, and make a small, positive contribution in their lives.  It is a privilege that I have the opportunity to volunteer.

~ Please share an anecdote about your volunteer experience.
A couple of years ago, I was helping a student navigate the job application process, and they were able to use that and get a job at a restaurant.  On one other occasion, I was sort of complaining about my workload, and how I wished I could go on vacation, when one of the students said that they had not taken a vacation in 2 years.  A lot of students at Literacy Advance lead difficult and challenging lives, and if we can help them improve their life, with better speaking skills, what more incentive do we need?

Thank you so much, Vineet!

Barbara Osterwisch

barbaraBarbara just found us in February of this year, but she has started off with a bang! She tutors a group of 10 English as a Second Language (ESL) students at Yes Prep North Central, one of our Outreach partner locations.

Barbara’s love of literacy and enthusiasm shines through in the creative and thoughtful ways she engages with students, which quickly puts them at ease and creates a supportive place for them to try out their new language skills. Maybe it comes from her years of experience in education, or maybe she’s channeling her grandson (seen reading with her, below)? We're so happy that Barbara shares her experience and energy with us!

~ What first brought you to Literacy Advance?

I received a note via LinkedIn indicating there was a volunteer opportunity that might be a match for me.  It took me just a few minutes after visiting the website to realize this was the volunteer opportunity I'd been seeking.

~ What do you most enjoy about volunteering?

Most?  That's a tough question because there are multiple things.   I'm going to have to go with a two-way tie between the outstanding support from Literacy Advance (people & training), and the wonderful women I had the opportunity to support for a bit on their journey to English language literacy. I sincerely appreciate the challenges they face in learning a new language as adults, and the great intellect and grace with which they tackle these challenges.

~ What strategies do you keep in mind while tutoring barbaraa multi-level class?

I found intentional grouping to be a helpful strategy, grouping learners of similar levels for some activities, and creating mixed-level groups for others. We also found time to sit in a circle and speak conversationally at the end of each class.  Providing on-the-spot support as we discussed one topic, or question, in a safe and friendly atmosphere was not only helpful, I think, it was also fun.  Building camaraderie by talking and laughing together can be an effective way to help participants feel more comfortable learning a new language at a later age, something that might be stressful or daunting at times.

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

Don't think about it, do it!  If it has crossed your mind at all, then you are ready.  There won't be a better time than now.  You will learn as you go, and that's okay.  Do it.  It will be one of the best experiences of your life.  And I promise, you will get more from it than you give.

YES Prep class


pat harrisPat Harris

Pat’s kind voice and beautiful smile are often the first things guests are greeted with when they arrive at our west Houston office. She started volunteering with us after she retired last summer, and she regularly dedicates two full mornings a week to helping at the front desk, with data entry, and by doing other administrative tasks. Pat so believes in literacy, she even tells people about our services and hands out information to people she meets elsewhere! We are so thankful that Pat chooses to spend some of her time with us.

~ What first brought you to Literacy Advance?
I had a friend who volunteered at Literacy Advance. I was going to volunteer while I was working but my office moved and it was too far. I kept the information and when I retired, I knew I wanted to volunteer. I looked it up online, and that’s how it got started!

~ What do you most enjoy about volunteering?
I enjoy the people! I enjoy talking to them, I like helping people, and it always brightens my day.

~ What inspires you?
As a child, it was instilled in me to always do my best and think about the positive. If you dwell on what’s positive in your life, things aren’t so bad. I’ve been blessed, I’ve always had love and attention and strong faith.

~ Physical book or e-reader?
Electronic. I’m a technological person. My Bible is on my phone, when I go to church, I hold up my phone.

~ What would you say to other people who are thinking about volunteering?
I always say I like it because people are so nice and appreciative. People here want to learn, they want to please, and they are so happy for anything you do. I don’t ever leave here wishing I hadn’t come.

Thank you for all that you do for us and for the community, Pat!

lisa beckmanLisa Beckman

Lisa started volunteering at Literacy Advance in January of 2013 and always delivers fun, energetic lessons. Lately she’s been working with our English-learning students who are not yet placed in regular classes, keeping them entertained by tutoring the Waiting Class.  Lisa’s great attitude is contagious; when Lisa leads class, we hear students’ laughter floating through the air. Lisa generously helps other tutors, too, by sharing her experiences and lesson ideas, and inviting them to observe her in action.

Editor's note: We asked Lisa for a photo of herself that she liked, and she sent the ones on this page. We couldn't choose from amongst them, so here they all are! The many faces of Lisa :)

~ What first brought you to Literacy Advance?lisa beckman

International travel has always been one of my favorite interests, but it is very frustrating when I can’t read or understand the language of the country I’m visiting.  People around the world have always been so kind and patient with me, and I wanted to give back in my own little way.

~ What inspires you?

lisa beckmanThe women in my classes inspire me.  Many of them enter the classes shy and embarrassed to speak English, but they always try their best.  Sometimes they’re not used to speaking up for themselves, and I’m happy when I can help to give them a voice.

~ What do you most enjoy about volunteering?

I love when my students smile.  It shows me they are having a good time in class.

~ What strategies do you keep in mind when you tutor?lisa beckman

I let the class dictate the speed they want to go.  I don’t try to rush to get in worksheets or activities just because I prepared them.  It works better if I work at their pace.

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

Do it!  It’s scarier for the learners than for the teachers.

lisa beckman~ You're a reliable and enthusiastic tutor of the Waiting Class. What's the most energetic activity your students enjoyed in a Waiting Class?

Everything I do in the classroom requires energy from my students.  We jump around, and laugh, and play.

~ Please share an anecdote about your volunteer experience.lisa beckman

Once, during a pronunciation lesson, we were learning to pronounce the “eet” sound at the end of words like  “heat” and “wheat” and “seat".  Some of my students were pronouncing the words “hit”, “whit", and “sit”.  This made for an interesting and funny conversation when I taught them the word “sheet.”  They learned an important and common English idiom that day.

matt crowleyMatthew Crowley

Have you seen the gorgeous photos of kids with books that we regularly feature on our Facebook page? Odds are, they were taken by Matt! He's been a very regular volunteer at Family Literacy Events over the last couple of years, and helps us tell the literacy story in particularly visual ways. He's also a regular photographer at other Literacy Advance events, like our recent Reader Cup Golf Tournament, and is a member of our agency Programs Committee. We're so grateful that Matt's willing to share his considerable talents!

~ What first brought you to Literacy Advance?

A coworker's wife volunteered at Literacy Advance, and told me of the great work the organization was doing.  I wanted to do a little volunteer work and Literacy Advance was the perfect fit.

~ What do you most enjoy about volunteering?

I enjoy the smiles the most while volunteering, from staff, learners or any one involved.  When I see a smile, it makes me think that something special has just occurred and I was lucky enough to be a part of it.

~ You take a lot of great photos at our Family Literacy Events. What do you look for, to get a great shot?

A photo can do two things: record history or tell a story.  Great shots do both.  The story of Family Literacy Events really lends itself well to do both.

~ Why is reading and literacy important to you?

Growing up I had books, and I read, but I wish had read more.  Reading was not something that was pushed on me and in my early education and it resulted in a few struggles, so I fully understand how vital it is for educational growth.

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

What are you waiting for?  Volunteering is truly a heart-warming experience and who doesn't love that?

Thank you so much, Matthew!

liz cobbLiz Cobb

Liz has been a committed volunteer tutor in the Adult Basic Education (ABE) program since November 2013. Currently, she is teaching THREE ABE classes every week, with students at different levels – nine hours of instruction every week! She has donated more than 150 volunteer hours so far.

We’re very thankful for all the time and support Liz provides to Literacy Advance!

~What first brought you to Literacy Advance?

I previously volunteered within HISD and wanted to continue some type of academic volunteering.  Literacy Advance was a perfect match.

~What inspires you?

I am inspired if I think any person has benefited from what I do and then I want to continue and help someone else.  The smile on the face of the child I rocked or on the face of the student I helped gives me great pleasure.

~What do you most enjoy about volunteering?

When you volunteer you can make a real connection with people. The connection is not only the students and patients but also includes the personnel running the programs.

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

I try to think outside the box in order to more closely match the needs of the student.  It takes me several meetings to really determine what the person needs and how I can meet those needs.   If something doesn't work then I try something else.  For example, one of my students needed college prep and one needed to increase her vocabulary.  I teach them differently.   We are here to meet a need, not just to teach reading.

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

I recommend volunteering to all of my friends and tell them that I get back much more than I give.

Doing something you want to instead of having to do something because it is necessary makes all the difference.

~What's your favorite book?

I love to read, and feel that reading opens up the world.  Also, I hate to be bored and reading is the best way to fight boredom.  I read a lot of different types of books, from classical literature to science fiction, but I think my favorite book is One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.  The book is short, historically brutal – and uplifting.  It shows the best in human nature in the worst of conditions.

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

I really enjoy working with younger clients because I try to teach some life lessons along with reading.  I do not want them to waste their time re-learning what I had to learn the hard way.  Often when I present one of these ideas or lessons, they say "You’re right; I’ve never thought of that."  Seeing something in a different way can open up someone's life. 

My favorite and perhaps dumbest idea I tell everyone is, "The only thing that cannot be taken from you is your character.  You can lose your money, job, spouse, health, and just about everything else, but your character can only be given away by you." Don't laugh too much please!


howard feldmanHoward Feldman

Howard has been a committed volunteer tutor in the English as a Second Language (ESL) program since August 2013. He has donated more than 200 volunteer hours so far.

We're very thankful for all the time and support Howard provides to Literacy Advance!

~ What first brought you to Literacy Advance?

I moved to Houston from St. Louis in 2012 and was looking for an opportunity to work as a volunteer. I love the English language and had wanted to teach ESL. Someone told me Literacy Advance did a great job helping people with ESL, so I contacted the organization.

~ What do you most enjoy about volunteering?

I love seeing people make progress. It's very, very satisfying to feel that you helped someone toward their goals. I also love meeting people from different parts of the world. In a small class they somehow find a way to get along and, in fact, to become friends.

~ What inspires you?

I'm inspired by the effort put in by the students. They've all come here from a different part of the world, often under trying circumstances. It is not easy to learn a new language, but they never give up.

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

I try to make sure the students understand me, that they feel free to ask questions, that I'm patient as progress sometimes comes slowly. I emphasize a few things in the course: conversation, grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation, and reading. Also, they hear the word "practice" from me every class.

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

It is incredibly satisfying to help other people. Houston, like the U.S., is a great "melting pot" with people from all over the world.  Literally thousands of people here are looking for help with ESL. You can make a difference in their lives.

~ What is your favorite book?

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

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

No great stories come to mind. But I will say that it's evident the ESL students appreciate Literacy Advance and all the tutors. They appreciate the help provided to them.


Susanne Rustler

Susanne has been a committed administrative volunteer since October 2013. Over a little more than a year, she has donated a huge number of hours – 240 volunteer hours helping at the front desk, doing data entry, and assisting with other office needs. She always steps in and helps when it most needed.

We are very thankful for all the time and support Susanne provides to Literacy Advance!

susanne rustler
Celebrating when Susanne passed the 200-hour volunteering milestone, in late 2014.

~ What first brought you to Literacy Advance?

When my daughters began preschool last year I started looking for a volunteer opportunity. Luckily, I found Literacy Advance by searching the internet and after a short email exchange with Anna, I started volunteering at the front desk the following week.

~ What do you most enjoy about volunteering?

I enjoy using my skills [Susanne is multilingual!] and working with people from different cultural backgrounds. It is great to see the students improving their English and being so thankful for getting free English classes.

~ What inspires you?

For me it is to know I can help somebody and do something good. I feel much better knowing I spent the morning working for an organization that improves people's lives.

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

I love the atmosphere at Literacy Advance, everyone is so wonderful, the office staff, the students, and all the other volunteers.

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

If you have some free time and are interested in volunteering, please give it a try. You will see how rewarding it is and how much your help is being appreciated.


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