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2017 Volunteer Spotlights

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


ginaGina Wyszynski

If you’ve been to the Wilcrest office or called us on a Monday afternoon, chances are, Gina Wyszynski helped you!

Gina started volunteering at the front desk just after she retired from her executive assistant role in early 2015, and she’s never stopped bringing a high level of professionalism and friendliness to Literacy Advance. She even helps us train new volunteers, interns, and staff.

One of the best gifts Gina gives us is her kindness and joy. Whether your interaction is quick, like signing in and hurrying to class; or more leisurely, you can tell Gina is happy to be here and happy to help.gina texans

Frankly, we’re not sure how she squeezes time in to be here every week. She’s always on the go, traveling with her husband, satisfying a foodie-fix with friends, and cheering on our beloved Texans.

We suspect spreading her love of reading has something to do with it: Gina is a voracious reader. She consumes everything from Ken Follett’s historical novels, to anything involving Harry Potter.

We know Gina could do anything else with her time. We are grateful to her and all our volunteers for choosing to support Literacy Advance so joyfully and generously!

What brought you to Literacy Advance?

Many years ago I was involved in a program called World Book Night, distributing books to organizations and people with the idea of promoting the love of reading. One of the places I distributed books was to Literacy Advance. I made a promise to myself that when I retired, I would volunteer my time there. I wanted to be in an environment where adults learned to read.

gina bookstoreWhat do you enjoy most about volunteering?

I love meeting the students. The eagerness in their faces and seeing their eyes light up with positive attitudes brings a huge smile to my face that can brighten any day.

What inspires you?

I think it’s courageous for these students to step out of their comfort zone by learning how to read or learning a new language. That action inspires me to take chances to improve my life. What the students might not realize is that they are teaching me too when they show enthusiasm for something new. I think of these students every time I want to challenge myself.

What would you say to other people gina texas bookfestthinking about volunteering?

I would say... do it! I’ve learned it is a rewarding experience.

What’s your favorite hobby or talent?

I enjoy gardening, scrapbooking, and of course, ending the day with a bit of reading. Well, maybe not “a bit” - more like “a lot of reading.”

Thank you, Gina!


tom johnsonTom Johnson

Despite a busy schedule full of exciting activities and travel itineraries, family commitments, and competing priorities, Tom Johnson has tutored a few 12-week English as a Second Language classes each year since 2012. He also helps with the Waiting Class, and fills in as a substitute when he can. When new tutors observe one of Tom’s lessons, they quickly overcome nervousness and doubt.

Class stability and continuity is key to learner persistence and success. Sometimes, though, unforeseen circumstances stop tutors from being able to meet their commitments for a 12- or 16-week class. Unfortunately, this was the case with many of our fall classes. Tom’s current class started with another tutor the week before the hurricane and flooding. The first tutor was unable to come back, and the class re-started in mid-September with the help of two substitutes. In October, Tom took over and is now the regular tutor for the 3-hour weekly class.

Although he’s racked up over 500 volunteer hours, he still approaches each class as if it were his first. He gets to know the learners, takes time to find out their goals and challenges, and thoughtfully prepares each lesson so it’s meaningful, relevant, and engaging.

It’s obvious that Tom cares deeply for the learners he meets at Literacy Advance. As we feature him in this month’s Volunteer Spotlight, we now have an even better understanding of why he’s so connected.

Why did you choose to be an ESL tutor?

My Grandfather emigrated from Sweden to the United States over 100 years ago, in 1915. He took a job as a chauffeur and, a little later, married the maid. Her family had emigrated from Norway. Thus started the American branch of the Johnson family tree.

As I think back to what it must have been like to come to a new country, one thing is clear. They had to learn to speak English. Someone had to help them. Today we still have immigrants coming to America and the challenge to learn English is still there. I’m grateful that someone helped my grandparents and now it’s my turn to pay back that help to our new immigrants.

tom johnson class citizenshipStudent Parvis (front, holding  his new U.S citizenship certificate) in 2014, celebrating with his tutor Tom, fellow students, and Literacy Advance staff.

What brought you to Literacy Advance?

I looked at a several places where I could volunteer to tutor English, but I chose Literacy Advance because
1) Classes are free
2) Classes are small
3) There are many different options for class times
4) The tutoring format is flexible
5) There is a computer lab where I can program computers to help the learners practice their English
6) People are friendly and helpful
7) There is a resource room where I can develop new ideas and materials for the learners.

What do you enjoy most about volunteering?

The progress students make in 12 weeks can be truly stunning. I had a Level 1 (beginner) class once where everyone was scared and convinced that they’d never learn English. When the 12 weeks of class ended, they were wishing each other happy holidays and asking what they were going to be doing over the holidays. Then they went out to the front desk and wished everyone happy holidays there as well. And they did this in the only language that was common to them: English.

I had a couple of ladies in a Level 4 (high intermediate) class who were terrified of speaking English in public. One of my homework assignments at this level is to ask a stranger in the grocery store where they can find the potatoes. For weeks these two ladies held out. Then they were the only two who hadn’t done the assignment. Eventually they acquiesced.

At about week 10 of class these two ladies, on their own, planned transportation, dinner at a restaurant, and went to a ballet together. One lady was Albanian and the other Russian. The only common language between them was English. They were so proud of themselves and had to share the adventure with the rest of the class.

These types of experiences make volunteering very rewarding.

What would you say to other people thinking about volunteering?

Volunteer at something you enjoy. You’ll probably be amazed at how rewarding it can be. You’ll also learn a lot from the people you are helping.

What’s your favorite hobby or talent?

I love to travel. I’ve been to 48 of the states (Delaware and Connecticut are left) and 28 countries.

Thank you, Tom!


jennifer hollowayJennifer Holloway

People volunteer for all kinds of reasons. Some say they want to give back to the community. Others tell us they want to develop new skills or explore an interest before committing to it. For some, volunteering fills a void when their careers, spouses, or living arrangements change, or it gives them something fulfilling to do in their already busy lives. One thing we know for sure is that people do things when they’re ready.

Jennifer Holloway tutored with us many years ago. She showed a genuine interest in learning about people and was enthusiastic about helping our adult learners communicate better in their everyday lives. She was high energy and had a lot of passion for learning about the students in her classes! So when her circumstances changed and other priorities in her life took precedence, she stopped volunteering – rightly so! We missed her, but we understood that the timing was just not right.

We think Jennifer missed tutoring, too! After a five-year hiatus, she contacted us about volunteering again. We wanted her to feel well prepared, familiar with our procedures, and confident with the curriculum that changed while she was away, so we asked her to attend a tutor training.

It was nearly a year and a half before the timing worked out! Jennifer completed the English as a Second Language workshop in June, and patiently waited until the fall semester. Finally, she started a new class in early August – just before Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston and forced us to pause classes.

Our hearts go out to the volunteers and students who want to be here now, but who have other pressing priorities to take care of. We look forward to welcoming everyone back when the time is right. Take heart - we are thrilled that Jennifer is tutoring at Literacy Advance again!

What brought you back to Literacy Advance?

I have always volunteered since I was a child in many different ways and with many organizations. Nothing has ever offered not only the opportunity to enjoy immediate visible results of my time and effort, but also to positively affect my own life like working with the students at Literacy Advance.

Without question, my past volunteer work with Literacy Advance changed me. The students opened my eyes to how much I take for granted about my own life. I learned to be more patient, understanding, and grateful. Plus, tutoring at Literacy Advance is simply fun and interesting beyond words! I have missed it very much and I’m so happy to be back!

What do you most enjoy about volunteering?

Once a week, I sit around a table with several other adults from all walks of life, from places around the globe, sharing this common effort of learning a language, and have the most wonderful conversations. We teach each other about culture, humanity, friendship, respect, and the reward of working hard to achieve something. It’s the best three hours of my week!

What inspires you (as a tutor, or in life in general)?

I have a natural curiosity buried deep inside my makeup that inspires me to continually seek knowledge. Every day I find myself constantly asking questions. These questions range from "How do cell phones work?" to "What is the origin of man?” This curiosity overwhelms my life, but in a good way. I read a lot and through reading I fill my mind not only knowledge, but with experiences that I would never achieve in a normal life time. With each new thing I learn, I am always inspired to learn more.

What would you say to other people thinking about volunteering?

The students at Literacy Advance are an inspiration to all of us! Don’t be surprised if you find yourself with a more positive attitude about wanting to take on new challenges to improve your own life!

What is your favorite season?


Thank you so much, Jennifer!



Farida Hill

farida hillFarida is an English as a Second Language tutor at our Bay Area campus. She earned her degree as an English as a Foreign Language teacher outside the U.S. She volunteered in other ways after moving here, and we’re really glad she found Literacy Advance!

The Bay Area schedule allows her flexibility to take a break when other areas of her life require her attention, but that hasn’t prohibited her from tutoring over 100 hours, helping people improve their English in different class levels, and in different kinds of classes, off and on over the last two years.

As an immigrant herself, she exudes an empathy that puts learners at ease. Her love of people, culture, and languages spills over into her classes with an exuberance that just might be contagious – her students seem to be more excited and less self-conscious about their growing English skills every time they finish class.

Why do you volunteer at Literacy Advance?

I think that in general, volunteering is very important to strengthen our communities. I have been a stay-at-home mom for a long time because I chose to take care of my children and be available to them while my husband travels the world for his job half of the month. I found very good opportunities to volunteer in my kids' schools at different levels for years and enjoyed it very much.

When I first heard about Literacy Advance, I thought it was perfect for me because I have a bachelor's in EFL and I enjoyed teaching English in my home country where English is a foreign language. I have a passion for teaching and helping so I really find myself in my element at Literacy Advance.

What inspires you most about volunteering?

Many things and many people inspire me. I like seeing people achieving their goals, learning new things, starting a new business, helping others selflessly. I'm inspired by people's kindness.

In general, I'm inspired by people who lift others up and who think we're all in this together and that the whole society benefits when each person is successful.

What do you enjoy most about volunteering?

There are many things I enjoy when I volunteer. First, the feeling that I help someone or an organization or a cause. At Literacy Advance, I feel a sense of satisfaction when I see immigrants learning English and improving their skills. I also enjoy meeting people from different countries and I try to learn about their culture.

What strategies do you keep in mind when you tutor?

  • Make it simple.
  • Pick material with interesting content / useful to the students' purpose of learning English.
  • Make it fun.
  • Class preparation is important.
  • Outline the subject matter / purpose of the class / different tools and cohesion of the segments / timely planning.
  • Have different segments in a class. It keeps the students more enthusiastic, not bored.
  • Interact with all the students during the class, especially the quiet / shy ones. A challenge!

What advice do you have for other people who are thinking of volunteering?

I actually talk a lot about Literacy Advance to my friends and acquaintances. I tell them about how I enjoy it and how I learn different things about different cultures from my students. I encourage them to volunteer their time and their skills not just to help our communities but to do it for themselves too because while volunteering, they will learn about America, the real one. The unique one. The solid one. The kind one. The diverse and the tolerant one in which it feels good to see people from different walks of life starting the American dream.

What do you do for fun?

I love having fun. I love music and listen / sing in four different languages. I love dancing too. I like French poetry. I'm a Francophile. I'm part of a French meet-up group in Clear Lake. I enjoy translation/interpretation in English, French, and Arabic and I volunteer my skills with nonprofit organizations in Houston. I also like to write and give speeches in these three languages. I enjoy cooking and baking. I love socializing and friends' gatherings.

Thank you so much, Farida!



Rose Gordon

rose gordon class

Rose (second from left) with one of her Communication at Work classes.

Rose’s professional background is in Information Technology, and she worked with adult learners for many years. She found her way to Literacy Advance in the summer of 2014.

She was initially interested in becoming a volunteer computer coach, and an Adult Basic Education (ABE) tutor. She and an ABE learner were together for over a year, but eventually scheduling conflicts got in the way, and they were unable to continue. (Don’t worry, the learner now has another weekly class with a different tutor!)

More and more, adult learners are under economic pressure and express interest in improving their work readiness. Having high-level English proficiency is an important success factor. So when we decided to offer a Communication at Work class that helps learners with grammar, vocabulary, and culture unique to U.S. work situations, Rose embraced it.

She completed English as a Second Language tutor training, and began tutoring small-group classes using the video-based lessons. She helped with resume writing and interviewing skills, too, and earned very positive student feedback.

She did have some attrition recently, for the best reason possible: one student couldn’t come to class anymore because he got a job, and he said her class helped him a lot! She is now both a tutor and mentor to other volunteers who are interested in using these materials to help learners develop their professional communication skills. Thank you, Rose!

What brought you to Literacy Advance?

I love reading and enjoy helping people reach their goals. I have also done a bit of traveling in the U.S. and abroad and recognize the sense of empowerment and enhanced self-esteem gained from being able to communicate effectively in one’s surroundings. 

I was looking for a place where I could provide adult learners the encouragement and communication skills (reading, writing, speaking) needed to function successfully in their environments.  Literacy Advance was a perfect fit.  

What do you most enjoy about volunteering? 

The STUDENTS!  They are always enthusiastic, dedicated, grateful and eager to absorb every bit of information shared by the tutors.rose gordon class

The tenacity shown by many of the students as they navigated day-to-day obstacles to attend class was admirable. One of my students arrived almost two hours before class began to avoid missing the bus and arriving late. She was also one of my most attentive and engaging participants! 

I am also humbled by the creativity and determination these adult learners exhibit on their path to providing an improved quality of life for themselves and their families.  

Also, the STAFF! The Literacy Advance staff is awesome. They provide the tools, techniques and support needed for volunteers to be successful while providing a cheerful and welcoming environment for students to learn.

What inspires you (as a tutor, or in life in general)?

One of my favorite inspirational quotes is: “believe that there's light at the end of the tunnel. Believe that you might be that light for someone else.”  I strive to be that beacon of light for others.

Little did I know how much light I would receive back from them!  The students’ openness to share information about their backgrounds and goals, and how the lack of literacy skills has altered the trajectory of their lives is so inspiring.

Several of my ESL students, for example, held highly skilled jobs in their countries; however, due to their current literacy challenges, they are unable to pursue those occupations here in the U.S. 

I am inspired each time a student’s face lights up after comprehending a challenging topic, or when they shed tears of joy at reaching a milestone, or after I receive a hug or other display of appreciation for spending time with them.

What would you say to other people thinking about volunteering?

Just do it! The need is great, the learners are eager, and the list of students waiting to be partnered with a tutor is long. It is unbelievably gratifying to use my skills to fundamentally improve the lives of the students with whom I interact.

Keep in mind that even a brief commitment of your time is greatly appreciated. The staff endeavors to make scheduling as convenient as possible for tutors. When I first started volunteering at Literacy Advance, my work schedule allowed me to tutor on Friday mornings; however, when my work schedule changed, I was able to shift my class to Saturday mornings.  Then, when that time period no longer accommodated my schedule, I switched to tutoring special classes that had a shorter time commitment.  As a volunteer, you will receive much more than you give... go for it!!

What is your favorite vacation place or activity?

I am fortunate to have vacationed at many wonderful places across the U.S. and around the world.  My two favorite vacation spots are the Grand Canyon and Sedona in Arizona. The Grand Canyon is one of the seven natural wonders of the world and has one of the deepest gorges on Earth. Standing on one of the high rims, I could look down into the canyon to view the different colored rock formations and fossil deposits. The area is a breath-taking display of nature!

Our day-trip to Sedona during that vacation was equally memorable. It is listed as one of the most beautiful places in America. Its multi-colored geologically-formed red stones seem to rise from the desert floor and the vivid colors appear to change hourly with the shifting sunlight.  I enjoyed walking along the many paths that overlooked miles of peaceful national forest land.   



michael and tiffanyMichael Krieger

Michael is an inspiration! If we ever need a little pick-me-up, we talk to Michael. He has a way of approaching situations with empathy and compassion, in an upbeat way. He uses challenges in his own life experiences to tackle problems thoughtfully and whole-heartedly, and then overcomes them as if a success was never in doubt.  We are lucky to be able to say that Michael began to volunteer at Literacy Advance in January 2016, and has volunteered for over 200 hours since then, both inside and outside the classroom. 

One way Michael helps others succeed is by tutoring a Basic Computer class. The class helps people get started so they can practice English and reading online, learn how to navigate websites to look for information and apply for jobs, and start exploring all there is to know on the internet. As a Computer Coach, he helps learners who can’t come to class regularly. He schedules time and assists Adult Basic Education and English as a Second Language learners who drop in to use the computer, however they need or want.

Michael is also instrumental in many of our behind-the-scenes workings. We rely on him to help keep information up to date so we can communicate with and show appreciate for our donors and funders. Sometimes, he’s out in front, too: if you came to our Scrabble in the City event in the last two years, you saw Michael there, happily showcasing our auction and raffle items (pictured above at Scrabble with fiancee Tiffany, also a Literacy Advance volunteer!). 

We are grateful for the many ways Michael volunteers, and equally appreciative of the positive energy he spreads while he does it! As you'll read below, Michael overcame a medical emergency to create positive outcomes. His family helped draft his written responses, below. We couldn't agree with them more!

Why do you volunteer at Literacy Advance?

I have volunteered at the Crisis Hotline in the past and I have also talked to new patients in the stroke unit at Memorial Hermann. I wanted to start volunteering again, but I wanted to be sure that the activity was a good fit for me.

After talking on the phone to the Volunteer Manager at Literacy Advance, I attended a “Story Time” session to make sure I actually liked it. I was so impressed because everyone there was so dedicated and welcoming, from the Executive Director to the staffers to the volunteers

So, I decided to do the Adult Basic Education (ABE) tutor training, and I started volunteering in the Development office. Six months later, I started volunteering as a Computer Coach in the lab. 

What inspires you?  

I love language. You’ll often find me reading a book or watching a documentary movie.

I also like to help other people. I volunteered at a rehab charity (RSVP Texas) that helps uninsured people with brain injuries. There, I did marketing, but I also became a “social worker” for some of the patients. I helped with their computers or with getting an apartment, or sometimes I would visit with their families and talk about their brain injuries.

What do you most enjoy about volunteering?

I enjoy feeling the energy in the Literacy Advance office that radiates from the staffers who are passionate about what they do, the volunteers who are so enthusiastic and helpful, and the learners who are committed to setting and reaching their goals.

You are a positive influence! What do you think of when you try to encourage people?

I had a mild stroke five years ago that has affected my speech and writing. Consequently, I worked hard to adapt my reading, speaking, and writing skills by using apps and software; I turned a potentially negative situation into a positive one.

My own experiences have made me empathetic to those who are trying improve their English skills. Therefore, I encourage my learners to be open-minded about trying technology resources and to celebrate their progress.

What would you say to other people who are thinking about volunteering?

If it is the right time in your life where you can share your enthusiasm for learning and be a positive influence to others, please consider volunteering at Literacy Advance. You'll get so much joy back from those around you in the process.

Summer is here! Do you have any plans you want to tell us about?

My daughter just graduated from high school, so we'll be getting her ready to start college in the late summer.

Thank you, Michael!

A special post-script: Michael and Tiffany, both pictured above, recently got engaged. They were kind enough to share their beautiful book-themed proposal with us and we shared it on Facebook. It's lovely and will make you happy :)


ann henry + studentAnn Henry

Ann (at left in picture) is a dedicated English as a Second Language volunteer tutor, who thrives on helping adults across the learner continuum. She has tutored since 2012.

Back then, she needed some flexibility and wasn’t able to commit to a 12- or 16-week class, so she started tutoring a shorter conversation class at our Wilcrest location. She was hooked!

When her career changed and she was able to volunteer more regularly, Ann discovered how much she enjoyed helping beginners, at one of our key partner sites at IEDA Relief. She substitutes for other tutors throughout our network of partner sites, and this year, she helped us start classes at Shearn Elementary School.

Most recently, Ann put her creative energies to use by helping to lead a pen pal project, where students from classes at different locations write to buddies in other classes, to improve their writing fluency and to make friends. pen pal partyThey learned everything from how to address an envelope, to English grammar and punctuation, and even got a chance to write a complaint letter. (What an important task!) The project culminated with a party (pic at right) so the pals could meet each other face-to-face and celebrate together. 

Maybe Ann has such an affinity for adults who come to Literacy Advance to learn because she’s a lifelong learner herself! She continually looks for opportunities to learn more about adult education and connect with other tutors and educators. She participated in Gulf Coast Literacy Symposiums for the last two years. She plays a serious game of Scrabble at our annual Scrabble in the City fundraiser! She attends Tutor Enrichment Workshops at Literacy Advance, and explores ways to increase her personal knowledge and understanding simply because she thinks it will make her a better tutor.

Well, we think Ann is pretty great already!

Why do you volunteer at Literacy Advance?

I love seeing everything through the students’ eyes. Many students are very new to the U.S. and they are not just learning English. shearn elementaryThey are learning to drive, and use a computer, and talk to their children’s teachers. They experience many of the things we take for granted, and are eager to learn English and live in our culture. They support each other and really become their own new community. 

What inspires you most about volunteering?

I’m inspired by the sense of community students build. In the classroom, people who start out just wanting to learn English become a source of support for each other and make connections.

What do you enjoy most about volunteering?

I love seeing how the students come together. My friends make fun of me, because every time I have a class, I say “This is the best class!” Then when I start the next class, I say “No, this is the best class!” It’s funny, and it’s selfish – I love it and I get a lot out of it!

What strategies do you keep in mind when you tutor?

I try to think about what the students are trying to accomplish, what skills they need, and who they want to communicate with. And I try to find ways to build their confidence. If it is a safe place where they can practice asking and answering questions, it’s easier when they have to do it for real.

What advice do you have for other people who are thinking of volunteering?

Give it a try! When I moved from a conversation class to a regular 12-week class, I wondered how I was going to do it. I didn’t have a teaching background, and I thought it would be hard to fill two hours of people’s time. But once you start interacting with the students, it becomes clear. Don’t be intimidated!

What's your favorite book? 

I’m hard pressed to name just one book. I love reading stories of people who go to another country and live somewhere else for a year, just to experience the culture.

ann and team at scrabble in the cityAnn and friends team up for Scrabble in the City 2017

Thank you so much, Ann!


amy cedar brookAmy Gottlieb

Amy knows how to strike a balance! During her career in the energy industry, she developed and administered training. She enjoyed it enough to spend part of her time as a retiree volunteering at Literacy Advance. She also studied and teaches yoga, and gets in a healthy dose of California sunshine whenever she can squeeze in vacation to visit family.

There is one thing Amy won’t compromise on: She’s a committed tutor who tries to ensure that her and other tutors’ classes meet regularly. Amy started with us as a substitute English as a Second Language tutor, and when another tutor became ill, she led the remaining lessons so the class could finish as planned.

Students say that one of the best things about Amy is how flexible she is. Even though she prepares ahead for each lesson, the students frequently “derail” it, for the best reason possible: All her students are busy moms of school-aged children (Amy's an Outreach tutor and is based at Cedar Brook Elementary), and they need to communicate in English about many unexpected situations! They appreciate when their tutor takes the time to let them talk about what’s happening in their lives. Maybe this is why Amy’s students always look so relaxed and happy!

Why do you volunteer at Literacy Advance?

I have spent some time traveling, mainly in southeast Asia, and I'm always struck by the drive people have to better their lives through learning English. Literary Advance gives me a great vehicle for reaching people here in Houston with the same desire.

What inspires you?

I'm inspired by how hard our students work to master a new language- something most of us never undertake.

What do you most enjoy about volunteering?

I love to see the satisfaction students find in "getting it"- when a new word or complicated verb tense clicks into place.

What strategies do you keep in mind when you tutor?

I try to keep the learning relevant- what kinds of communication are the students having every day and what will help them be more effective? And, how can we make learning fun and engaging?

What would you say to other people thinking about volunteering?

It's not only gratifying but fun!


Mario Martinez

reading practice groupHave you heard of the Reading Practice Group? It’s a multi-level, drop-in class for students in our basic reading classes who want extra practice, and much more! Based on Adult Learner Persistence principles, the group is a community of Adult Basic Education learners and specially trained tutors, and encourages adults who are in individual classes or who are waiting for a tutor to keep learning together.

Long-time volunteers Pat Seago and Katie Zammito helped start the Reading Practice Group in late 2016, and it's now a permanent part of our programs. But after the first year, students told us they wanted to do more in each lesson. Enter Mario Martinez!

mario martinezMario has a background in education and linguistics, so when he contacted us about volunteering, we asked him to observe the group, and he decided to join the tutor pool. His research-based suggestions and fresh ideas mean students do more small-group work, use a larger variety of materials, and have more consistency from lesson to lesson. Best of all, the members of the group say they are learning a lot, attendance is up, and the same students keep coming back for more!

Why do you volunteer at Literacy Advance?

I volunteer because I am interested in how reflective practice and research literature come together to inform teaching. Literacy Advance allows me to think about how adults learn in a reading-acquisitive setting while I offer students the best practices that I know about learning. I feel it is important to use my skills to help other people.

What inspires you?

I’m inspired when education theory gets demonstrated in daily teaching practice. This happens almost every time I volunteer at Literacy Advance.

In one of my recent teaching sessions I asked students to solve a problem based on what they read in a short passage. The learners’ eager responses reminded me of a principle of Malcolm Knowles’ andragogy at work: Adults are engaged with learning when they apply ideas to problems. Seeing theory unfold in front of me inspires my volunteering.

What do you most enjoy about volunteering?

I usually acquire some of my best ideas when I do this kind of volunteering. Right now, I do a lot of data analysis that goes into writing papers, as I pursue a career as a researcher-practitioner teacher. Working with motivated students gets me back into a teaching headspace where I can ask pointed questions about what is important to learners.

What strategies do you keep in mind when you tutor?

I try to reach students with different reading abilities. This involves leveling work based on students’ skills.

I also try to use social learning principles so that learners are continually building understandings based on what their peers are doing and saying. This means grouping learners with helpers, or creating forums for individual inputs on a topic or task.

Finally, I keep a running reflection of the objectives I’ve set out, the activities completed, and how the overall tutoring session went. This way I can go back and rethink ideas, teaching formats, and revise my assumptions about the learners.

What would you say to other people thinking about volunteering?

Everyone has something (a talent, a skill, a set of ideas) to contribute by volunteering within the Houston community. Volunteering allows people opportunities to try on different ideas, get insights into professions, help causes and people, and make connections with others in the world. These opportunities are very powerful because they can usher in new pathways to future work, hobbies, causes, and life paths.

If you are considering a new profession, a new set of ideas, or are trying to effect social change, volunteering can help make that happen.

What is your favorite book?

My favorite book right now is R for Data Science by Hadley Wickham and Garrett Grolemund (2016). I realize that this is not a novel or typical book to read for pleasure. However, the book helps a computer user to understand a computer language-based grammar, with symbols to be understood, and interpretations of computer code to be made. When I read the R language I sometimes feel like I’m at the beginning stages of becoming literate in a new language. It reminds me that literacy is a complex set of processes coming together to explore and communicate in the world.


doug frye

Doug Frye

Less than a year ago, Doug was looking forward to retirement, and on a whim, he decided to give tutoring a try. He gravitated toward tutoring Adult Basic Education because of his own love of reading. He’s been volunteering non-stop ever since! He obviously enjoys it; after each class, he beams almost as much as his learner.

But he takes learning how to be an effective tutor very seriously. He spends time researching materials, analyzes successes and challenges, and accepts just about every chance to join workshops and collaborate with other tutors. Most importantly, Doug respects his student and involves him in the decision-making about lessons and activities for his own learning, and has fun experimenting with different approaches to keep learning interesting.

If you came to Scrabble in the City last year, you probably saw Doug’s smile and heard his laughter – it was ever-present – and he wasn’t even playing, he was a volunteer judge! We appreciate the 100+ hours of joy Doug has already brought to Literacy Advance, and we look forward to seeing his wonderful smile every week.

Why do you volunteer at Literacy Advance?

As I was getting ready to retire, I started to look for volunteer opportunities that would be a bit more personally rewarding than my information technology career had been. Fairly quickly in my search, I found Literacy Advance and it seemed to be a perfect match for me. Reading has always been such an important part of my life, so it seemed obvious how much a difference helping someone learn or improve their reading could make in their lives.

Somewhat foolishly, I tended to think of reading based solely on the joy I get out of reading for the fun of it. I hadn’t fully considered or comprehended the more practical realities of how difficult day-to-day life activities are when one can’t read.

What inspires you most about volunteering?

The students! They all are so enthusiastic, determined and grateful. I leave each tutoring session thankful to be working with someone who is so excited to be learning, and so grateful for the changes that the classes are making in their lives.

What do you enjoy most about volunteering?

First of all, it’s a lot more fun than I was expecting (we laugh a lot in class!). Beyond that, I find that it’s far more rewarding than I had ever imagined. Things like helping a student read medical information or review an apartment lease hadn’t even entered my mind, but every time we do something like that in class, I leave knowing how much I’ve helped then.

We read the newspaper quite a bit in class and I really enjoy discussing the articles after we read them. It’s great to have those conversations with someone with a vastly different background as well as someone who is learning about world events for the very first time.

What strategies do you keep in mind when you tutor?

I try to keep it fun and interesting, while tailoring the lessons to what the student likes. I was a bit freaked out the first couple of classes as everything seemed a bit loose on how to structure things in the class. Very quickly, I realized that this was a big plus. I get to try things out and see how they go. Literacy Advance has lots of different resources and great people who are happy to answer questions and give advice (staff as well as other tutors).

What advice do you have for other people who are thinking of volunteering?

Do it!! It’s so incredibly rewarding when you see the progress your students are making and how thankful they are for the time you’re investing in their future.

What's your favorite book?

That’s just an impossible question! I’ll just say that it tends to be the most recent book I've finished.

Thank you so much, Doug!

maira with mom and sis
Maira (left) with her mom and sister

Maira Lopes

Maira Lopes is a global citizen; she is selfless, interested in other people, and enthusiastic about life! So it’s no surprise that when she moved to Houston in the summer of 2015 from Brazil, and her visa didn’t permit her to work, she sought out people-oriented volunteer opportunities.

First, she became an usher at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. It gave her a chance to increase her English fluency, meet new people, and be around beautiful art.

Still, she needed something else meaningful to fill more of her time while her husband traveled frequently for business.

She completed English as a Second Language tutor training, but decided to volunteer in other ways first, to reduce her accent and increase her American English terminology – we use so many idioms! Even though it took multiple bus transfers and sometimes more than an hour each way, Maira started volunteering at the Wilcrest front desk and quickly became one of our most reliable and prolific volunteers.

She welcomed visitors and staff at least two days a week, answered phones, sorted children’s books for our Family Literacy program, helped with mailers, prepared folders for classes, and assisted with data entry to keep class attendance and student records current.

She started tutoring beginner English a year later, then continued with an intermediate class. All the while, Maira actively participated in tutor enrichment workshops and roundtables, sharing ideas and experiences with other volunteers. Her own history of learning English and German (and some Spanish by default!) as a native Portuguese speaker gave her a perspective that many American volunteers appreciate but don’t have.

Her efforts freed up time for the Program staff, and helped support a record number of classes last year. During the nearly 300 hours she volunteered at Literacy Advance, Maira improved the lives of students she directly tutored, and hundreds more.

Maira and her husband are preparing to move to Germany and welcome their first child. While we will certainly miss her, we count ouselves fortunate for being an outlet of her compassion, and know she will spread her joy of literacy everywhere she goes.

Why do you volunteer at Literacy Advance?

When I arrived in Houston I knew I could not work here because of my visa status, which does not allow spouses to work, so I wanted to do something more than stay at home. So I started looking for places close to my home because it would be easy for me, but finding a place to volunteer in Houston without having Social Security Number is almost impossible.

I was already giving up of volunteering, when I decided to look for places farther from my home, when I found Literacy Advance. So I contacted Maxine and I asked if they needed a SSN to check my background, and she told me that I could volunteer, and they would check in another way, so I found my place.

What inspires you most about volunteering?

This people, faith, goodness, nature. By volunteering I don't feel I am helping, I feel I am being helped. It is very difficult to start a new life in a new country, building relationships can take years, so loneliness is the only company.

In Literacy Advance I feel happy talking with the staff, other volunteers and students. I feel happy when I can help others and make their life easier. Also, I believe that all good things I received from others, I should give also.

class party

Maira (far right) with her class at their end-of-class celebration

What do you enjoy most about volunteering?

Having the opportunity to talk and be around people. I love hearing the students’ stories and seeing how they are improving in their language skills.

What strategies do you keep in mind when you tutor?

Make my best. It is all I think of when I am preparing the lessons, when I am in the classroom. If I give my best I believe it will make some changes.

What advice do you have for other people who are thinking of volunteering?maira climbing

Giving back to people without expecting any kind of re-compensation is a really good feeling. As I said you feel that you are the one who is being helped.

What is your favorite travel destination?

I love traveling to nature places. Nature is magnificent, as humanity we still could not copy this splendor. I feel reconnected, refreshed and peaceful when I am close to nature.

Thank you, Maira, and good luck in Germany!


terry keaneTerry Keane

Terry didn’t have any formal teaching experience, but when he faced retirement after a successful life-long career in the upstream oil and gas industry, he knew he wanted to volunteer as an English tutor at Literacy Advance.

Are we ever glad he did! In just 5 months, his natural talents, genuine interest in and compassion for others, and business smarts, have made a significant difference in the lives of those around him. Terry has tutored more than twenty Waiting Class sessions, which provide opportunities for students on the wait list to improve conversation skills, begin to learn about American culture, and develop relationships.

He has also tutored a 16-week Beginner English class, which had a 100% learner completion rate. In the end-of-class surveys, students said they speak and understand, and read and write better; and they can speak to their spouses, children, and grandchildren, and help them more. Thanks to Terry, one of our Houston neighbors now has a bank account and insurance on his home, and another even got a better job!

One key to Terry’s success is his ability to choose activities that address students’ self-defined goals by using our theme- and performance-based curriculum, English, No Problem! Terry says he likes “how each lesson builds on the other, and how they dovetail together. The instructions and lesson-specific teacher notes mean most of the lesson planning work is done for me, and I use it to help myself over-prepare.” But first and foremost, Terry uses it “because it hits all of the goals the students say they have.” One of his students even asked to buy a copy of the book for home use!

Why do you volunteer at Literacy Advance?

There are several reasons why I volunteer at Literacy Advance. The organization has had 52 years of success. Its mission and vision are very compelling. The staff is extremely competent, focused, and dedicated.

Most importantly, the need for what Literacy Advance does is almost overwhelming. Literacy Advance is addressing that need in very real, tangible, and sustainable ways with a proven track record of success. It is an organization with which I am proud to be associated. I, of course, initially became familiar with Literacy Advance through my daughter, Heather, a current staff member.

What inspires you most about volunteering?

This is an easy question to answer. I am inspired by the students. All of the students are so eager to learn! They seem to hang on every word that comes out of the tutor’s mouth.

They are all students at Literacy Advance for very fundamental reasons such as securing employment or better employment, enhancing their ability to communicate with family and friends, obtaining citizenship, or being able to converse with doctors or their children’s teachers.

The students are so openly appreciative of our time and efforts as tutors. The smile and sparkle in their eyes when they grasp a new concept, master a new vocabulary word, or solve one of English’s many idioms is indeed inspiring.

What do you enjoy most about volunteering?

I most enjoy the questions from the students. A question is an indication that a concept has been understood to the point where it prompts a question on their part. The question always presents an opportunity for the class to learn and frequently elicits a response and even an answer from one of the other students.

The question is also an indication of interest on their part and is usually good feedback that the current subject is pertinent to their lives and consistent with meeting their goals established in the first couple classes. The questions are also particularly enjoyable because the student is asking the question in English, an act that requires some courage and a great deal of effort and focus on his or her part.

What strategies do you keep in mind when you tutor?

Regarding strategies, the main idea I keep repeating to myself is that it is more important for the students to talk than it is for me to talk.

I usually start each class with two to three times more material than we will have time to cover. I would think that is true with most tutors. I have also learned that many times the students learn more from the other students than they do from the tutor. Any activity that stimulates a verbal exchange among the students is likely to be a good learning experience for the whole class.

In addition, the students seem to thrive off real-life examples, particularly if I can relate my own experiences or events to the subject matter. This is also a method for the students to get to better know their tutor. They are interested in our families, our work experiences, and our lives in general, life in America.

What advice do you have for other people who are thinking of volunteering?

Just do it! It will be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. Start out with the waiting classes. They are a blast. As a tutor you will get to meet some really great people from all over the world. Each of these people are in your class because they really want to learn. You will have their undivided attention for the entire two hours. They will do their very best to absorb everything that you and their fellow students say.

As a tutor you will be making a substantive contribution to fundamentally improving the lives of all the students with whom you interact.

What’s your favorite book?

City of Joy by Dominique Lapierre.

Thank you, Terry!

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