2018 Volunteer Spotlights
Use the links below to see specific people, or browse at your lesiure!
- April 2018 - Deepika Mamnani
- March 2018 - Kourtnei Gartman
- February 2018 - Lori Corwin
- January 2018 - Jo Anne Stefano
Deepika, center, with Reading Practice Group students.
Deepika has found new and wonderful ways to empower adult learners at Literacy Advance since 2011 – she has volunteered for more than 200 hours so far!
The class that currently brings out her superpowers is the Adult Basic Education Reading Practice Group (RPG). This is an optional, supplemental class that reading students can attend while they’re waiting for placement, or in addition to their regular classes. Deepika and a few other, specially trained tutors sign up for individual lessons. She travels a lot for her job and can’t fit a regular 12- or 16-week class in consistently, so the flexibility of RPG works well for her.
Deepika leads learners through a variety of exercises that give them extra practice, and shares a common reflection journal with the other RPG tutors. Students can come as their schedule allows, but most come regularly, and Deepika has developed a personal understanding of each learner’s goals and challenges. She’s great at identifying wins that tutors who are with students more regularly might not see, and she doesn’t pass up a chance to celebrate progress!
Her sincere admiration motivates students, and her attention helps us know when students might need additional support. Deepika always seems to exude kindness and compassion, but just ask her about RPG, and you will see her love-light shine!
What first brought you to Literacy Advance?
My mom works in literacy for underprivileged children in India. I was inspired by the meaning and joy volunteering bought to her life, and wanted to experience the same along with my current career.
I am an engineer by profession, and work in the space of Information Technology. I work for a consulting company and in my role, am required to travel across the US and globally as well, during the week. I was looking for tutoring options, that were flexible with my schedule and allowed me to pursue an opportunity to tutor on weekends.
I did a lot of research online, and the reason I selected Literacy Advance was that there were many ways to tutor either through teaching English to adults through a variety of programs such as English as a Second Language, Waiting Class, or special classes such as Computers. Moreover, these options were available on Saturdays which worked very well for me.
What do you most enjoy about volunteering?
The engagement with the students. I learn so much about life, cultures, teamwork, and empathy from them.
The students in the Reading Practice Group are particularly inspirational. They are extremely diligent and more importantly exceptionally sensitive to each other. This is a multi-level class and the students help each other not only with the language but in other areas as well. Many of them travel from faraway locations, and their dedication to the subject and towards each other has taught me so much.
They are a shining example of teamwork and looking out for each other. Professionals who work in a corporate environment and families could learn so much on teamwork and taking care of one another from them.
The other thing that I truly like, is that Literacy Advance has managed to create a safe environment where everyone can ask questions, discuss, and learn together. If your student understands the topic, you will get instant feedback. There is no pretense. The joy that you get, when your student masters a particularly difficult topic is priceless. It is this warmth, honesty, transparency and the bonding with the students that I enjoy the most.
Most volunteers are nervous before they start tutoring. How did you prepare for your first class?
My first class was a computer class in 2012. I was scheduled to tutor Microsoft Word and Excel over twelve lessons. I prepared for it in the following ways:
- I was not nervous about the technical content as I understood the subject, but was very apprehensive about teaching adults. To overcome that I got some great literature from the library, on how adults learn and strategies to teach computers to adults.
- I referred to the resources provided by Literacy Advance and created a twelve-week lesson plan.
- I also got references to some Excel and Word applications, in the online resources section on the Literacy Advance Website. I downloaded these on my iPad as well. I found this to be very effective.
I was more nervous later, when I started teaching the Waiting Class and more recently the Reading Practice Group which I enjoy the most today : )
One thing that helped me overcome my nervousness for these two classes, was observing other volunteers and seeking guidance from them. Ahmed, my mentor for Waiting Class, and Mario, one of the first tutors of the Reading Practice Group, helped me prepare by providing guidance on materials and suggestions to run these classes.
Another thing that helped me, was the material for the theme of month and the online resources on the Literacy Advance website.
What would you say to other people who are thinking about volunteering?
It is the best gift that you can give yourself.
A student and tutor relationship is a win-win relationship, where the tutor is aiming to make the student successful, and the student is also trying to make his or her tutor successful. You don’t need to have the experience. You just need to have the desire to help and the support from the Literacy Advance team, will make you successful.
It is a magical experience. Try it. You will gain much more than you ever imagined.
Who is your favorite writer?
I read a variety of genres and have many favorites.
In the fiction genre, my favorites are Erich Sehgal, Rohinton Mistry and Jhumpa Lahiri.
In the non-fiction category, I love the works of Malcolm Gladwell, Robin Sharma, and Daniel Goleman.
When it comes to poetry, philosophy and spirituality, my favorites are Khalil Gibran, Maya Angelou, Eckhart Tolle and more recently Herman Hesse.
Thank you, Deepika!
Kourtnei came to us as an intern in mid-August, 2017, and started just days before Hurricane Harvey. She connected with us through a fantastic program, the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance at the University of Houston. She expected to provide administrative support for classes and gain experience in public speaking, but no one could have predicted the work that needed to be done in the wake of the worst disaster in Houston’s history.
Kourtnei took community outreach to a new level by helping us to check on students and volunteers, connect them with critical services, and eventually re-establish adult literacy classes. She lent her endless sense of fun to community events, too, including representing us at the Energy Corridor Cigna Sunday Streets, and by doing a stellar job organizing our 9th annual Around the World celebration.
When her internship commitment was complete, we were delighted to learn that Kourtnei wanted to regularly volunteer! You can find her providing seamless front desk coverage and support for students and volunteers on Wednesday afternoons, when staff is often in planning meetings.
Why did you decide to volunteer after your internship?
|Kourtnei at Sunday Streets in December 2017...|
|...and proving it was really her under that bunny head!|
I wanted to do something outside of the classroom, and I really liked the culture. It’s so welcoming, and you can see people grow.
What’s your favorite part about volunteering at the front desk?
At the front desk, you can be part of the welcoming feeling and sense of community here. You get an idea of just how many people are helped, and the sustainability of it all.
What inspires you?
It’s amazing to see the progress students make; to hear when they are able to speak to their kids’ teachers, or to make progress with other life goals.
What would you say to other people who are considering volunteering?
It’s fulfilling! When you give your time away, you find purpose.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be, and why?
That’s easy! I would be an Empath. Mantis is a minor character in the second Guardians of the Galaxy movie. You should see them!
Thank you, Kourtnei!
Lori is the kind of person who sees the best in others, and looks for antidotes to unpleasantness in the world. She first became aware of the incredible difference Literacy Advance volunteers make through her husband, who volunteers on our Board of Directors. Although she has a teaching background and a lot of volunteering experience, Lori wasn’t quite sure what tutoring here was all about.
She contacted us in May 2017 and didn’t waste any time! Over the next few weeks, she came to a Story Time tour to learn about volunteering opportunities; completed English as a Second Language tutor training to become familiar with our philosophy, policies, and procedures; and she observed a Waiting Class to see the theory in action.
Lori began tutoring her first group of adults in two-hour lessons, two afternoons a week. She was smitten! She came out of each lesson with a smile on her face and beamed when she shared stories with the staff of how students supported each other and made progress. As her admiration for the students in her class grew, her encouragement and ability to recognize even small successes as progress kept them motivated, even through post-Harvey challenges.
Lori’s caring heart found a new source of inspiration, and so did we. We’re excited to welcome Lori back this year for another round of classes!
What brought you to Literacy Advance?
I have been volunteering in different capacities for the past few years. I had recently worked as a volunteer with the Houston Sports Authority for the Paralympic Games and then with the Super Bowl Host Committee. I was looking for a new path to embark upon when my husband told me about Literacy Advance.
He had been invited to join the Board and was so impressed by the mission and work being done. He knew that it was just what I had been looking for!
After completing the tutor training and sitting in on a summer class, I was hooked! The staff, tutors, and students make this such a worthwhile endeavor.
What do you most enjoy about volunteering?
I think that I am a born nurturer. I do love "caring for and encouraging the growth of someone or something." I adored my 2nd grade teacher and told myself that I would be just like her one day. Never wavering, I did receive my degree in education and taught for several years.
I am proud to have nurtured my own two wonderful children and volunteered with PTAs and booster clubs along the way. The constant in my various volunteer activities is that I enjoy helping, encouraging, and supporting others.
Lori teaches her class about Halloween, in the fall of 2017 -
and the best learning always includes hands-on experience!
What inspires you?
Seeing the good that everyday people do every day is my inspiration. We are often bombarded with the bad behavior of people in the world, yet we need not look too hard or too far to see the good that people do in big and small ways. From Harvey relief, layaway Santas, and simple pay-it-forward acts of kindness, the good we can do is inspiring.
What would you say to other people thinking about volunteering?
Volunteering gives you a chance to be a part of the kind of community and world in which you want to live. You can become an active participant in making the world a better place! Your actions, whether big or small, can have an impact on someone's life. We are all in this together and need to support each other.
What’s your favorite hobby?
I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and making sure they know how important they are to me. I also enjoy travelling and love reading about, researching, and planning the perfect vacation.
Lori and husband Chris on vacation in Italy
Thank you, Lori!
Jo Anne has a long history of volunteerism throughout the community, actively supporting Meals on Wheels, Lions Club International, and the City of Fulshear. She’s a business owner, political activist, and the primary caregiver of her live-in mother.
She started volunteering at Literacy Advance in 2016, shortly after our office opened in Waller County, and quickly found multiple ways to support her neighbors as a tutor, substitute, donor, and by representing Literacy Advance at various community events throughout greater Houston.
Jo Anne first tutored a Beginner English class two evenings a week. She admits she was intimidated to get started, because she didn’t have formal teaching experience or speak another language. As owner of a children’s school, she spent her days with kids under 10; she knew that working with adults would require a shift in mind-set before every lesson.
But she was enamored of the students’ vulnerability and the trust they placed in her after the very first lesson. Their gratitude and commitment motivated her to connect with other volunteers and increase her effectiveness as a tutor. She used her lunch break to come to Tutor Enrichment Workshops at Wilcrest, travelled across three counties to participate in a Tutor Roundtable at Bay Area, and attended the Gulf Coast Literacy Symposium [registration for the 2018 symposium open now!].
Jo Anne’s creative by nature, and regularly exchanges ideas via our Tutor Support Group on Facebook. Her guiding principle is to let the students determine what’s important to include in lessons.
Her last class took a field trip to the local library so they could sign up for free books and computer access, and stopped to order fast food in English for the first time. Before her class finished in December, she volunteered to tutor yet another 12-week class at Waller as soon as the office opens for the Spring Semester in 2018.
We’re not sure how she does it, but we’re happy Jo Anne carves out time to volunteer at Literacy Advance, and we know the students in her next class will be, too!
What keeps you coming back?
Every day, there are so many demands on my time and attention. Tutoring fills me back up. It replenishes my soul.
What inspires you?
The best thing is when students make personal connections through English I helped them learn. In a recent Beginner class, we were talking about vowels and practicing that strange, American *a* sound. We used minimal pairs like *mad* and *sad*. We need to animate and act out sounds and words, so we practiced looking mad.
The next week, one student shared that he asked a co-worker: "You mad?" They proceeded to have a whole conversation around why. This was the first time he was able to have a conversation with this co-worker, he had the power to make a connection, and it started because the expressions helped him to remember the words!
Jo Anne's class celebrates Thanksgiving in November 2016
What's the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
In my first class, I tried to give my knowledge to the students. I directed the class and did a lot of lecturing. I’ve learned that I need to give students opportunities to practice their English. My job is just to oversee it.
Although I come prepared for the lesson and start with an agenda, class often goes off on tangents, and that’s okay! The students tell me what they need. They show me how to teach them.
What would you say to other people thinking about volunteering?
I thought I needed more linguistics. You don’t! You just need to have a willingness to save one starfish, that’s huge! You will make a difference in their lives, but even more, they will make a difference in yours.
What’s your favorite story?
Where the Wild Things Are. (If you haven’t yet, read it! It’s full of life lessons.)