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2019 Volunteer Spotlights

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


Jim McCubbin

If you’ve ever visited MAM Literacy Advance during the daytime, you’ve likely caught glimpses of tutor Jim McCubbin leading class. After 25 years as a wealth management advisor, Jim retired and sought out ways to fill his free time in between his travels. He decided to try something completely new: ESL tutoring!

Since 2014, Jim has been bringing cheer and positive energy to every class he leads. With more than 300 hours of tutoring under his belt, Jim has inspired many moments of learning and smiles in his students.

We look forward to seeing Jim again when he returns to MAM Literacy Advance from his latest journey!

What originally brought you to MAM Literacy Advance?

I had retired after 25 years with Smith Barney as a wealth management advisor and vice president and was bored. I had volunteered at an art workshop at the City Service Center on Gray Street for handicapped adults for several years. I have also volunteered for the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo for the past 9 years.

What do you most enjoy about volunteering?

The obvious success of my students and their enthusiasm.

What strategies do you use in the classroom?

I stress phonics, the sounds of letters and thus the spelling of words.

What would you say to other people thinking about volunteering?

If you have time without sacrificing anything you feel you need to do… Why not help others? You will actually feel rewarded in your heart.

Thank you, Jim!


Gerry Ross

computer classGerry Ross, far left, with wife and co-tutor Leola, and graduating computer literacy students at the Alliance for Multicultural Community Services

Whenever we have the opportunity, we like to nominate our amazing volunteers for awards and recognition. We recently had the chance to nominate the wonderful Gerry Ross for the Community Quarterback Awards, an annual award for volunteers at United Way agencies, presented by the Houston Texans and BHP.

Gerry wasn't a winner this time (though you better believe we'll be nominating him again!) - but we still wanted to share his story with you.


There are very few volunteer opportunities at MAM Literacy Advance that Gerry hasn’t mastered. Immediately upon completing ESL tutor training in 2013, Gerry jumped into service roles. He actively led adult ESL classes and upon seeing greater need from students, took on additional citizenship and basic computer skills tutoring.

His adult literacy classes all share the common thread of being relevant, engaging, and student-centered with the goal of preparing adults to succeed in Houston, their new home. Gerry recognizes that his students are parents and workers who need to care for their families, and treats everyone in his classes with empathetic respect. Gerry has actively volunteered at multiple MAM Literacy Advance partner locations to ensure educational services were available to immigrant and refugee communities closer to their home, providing greater stability in their learning.

Free children's books to give away
at a 2018 Family Literacy event
held at Albury Head Start!

Gerry’s heart is fully immersed in serving Houston’s most vulnerable neighbors, so, starting in 2016, he began participating in Family Literacy events across the city. In this capacity, Gerry engaged with parents and children to break the cycle of low literacy. Gerry is also a trained ESL New Student Registration leader, serving as a warm, welcoming face for students during their first interaction with MAM.

How has the nominee improved the lives of others in the community through his volunteer work?

In the five years Gerry has volunteered with MAM Literacy Advance, the only break he’s taken was for the months following Hurricane Harvey when he and his family were displaced from their home. Despite this, Gerry has engaged with more than 400 children and their parents in Family Literacy events, promoting family literacy through activities and distribution of free books, and has registered more than 100 adults to begin the life-changing journey of learning English.

Even greater than this impact, though, is the mark Gerry has made in his adult literacy classes. Despite a busy travel schedule for work, Gerry fits in multiple classes each year, ranging from one-time drop-in classes for students on our waitlist to eight-week supplemental classes for students who need extra language practice.

In total, Gerry has assisted more than 300 adults in language acquisition and has treated each one with dignity. He provides a safe space for students to ask questions and make mistakes, and encourages cross-cultural relationships amongst students who come to Houston from all over the world.

What sets the nominee apart and makes him deserving of recognition?

Gerry’s genuine enthusiasm to serve others is unmatched, and an inspiration for his fellow volunteers and the staff alike. After getting to know Gerry, he’ll share that his father suffered from dyslexia and low literacy for all of his life. Gerry, too, has worked hard to overcome literacy barriers and learn a second language, in his case Spanish, when business travels took him to Mexico early in his career.

Gerry and Leola Ross and friends
Bill and Jeanette Powell at the
2017 Scrabble in the City fundraiser

His ability to empathize with low-literate adults comes naturally because of these experiences, and Gerry has the valuable skill of breaking down barriers that nervous students arrive with, helping them feel at home, and creating the community and relaxation that’s crucial to the learning process. Gerry’s classrooms are full of laughter, but also the critical information that adults need to succeed in Houston, including such recent topics as buying
a car and navigating endless options for personal banking products.

Gerry embodies the fact that changing one life can change a family, and changing one family can empower a community. His servant heart is committed to making Houston better.

Gerry, we love you! Thank you for all you do! 


Tom Mace

Tom began volunteering at MAM Literacy Advance as an ESL tutor in May 2017. Since then, he has led several regular classes and frequently leads Waiting Class. In the last semester of 2018, he had TWO ESL classes in addition to multiple sessions of Waiting Class.

To every class and every tutoring activity, Tom brings enthusiasm, patience, and understanding. His varied experiences with languages, cultures, and bilingual programs within Houston have helped him to connect on an even deeper level with his students.

Just last month, Tom gave us another special gift: Brand new classroom fans! Thanks to Tom’s generous gift, students and volunteers can be even more comfortable in their classroom spaces, ready to learn and listen no matter what the weather looks like that day. Thank you, Tom, for all that you give to MAM Literacy Advance!

What brought you to MAM Literacy Advance?

I had been tutoring at other adult education organizations. While most of these organizations offered ESL & ABE classes for free, none of them offered the wide range of classes, class days and times, and transition services offered at MAM Literacy Advance.

What do you enjoy most about volunteering as a tutor?

I enjoy the varied background and skills sets of students who come to MAM Literacy Advance. I have tutored students whose first language was Spanish, Farsi, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese and several others.

What tutoring strategies do you often use in your classes?

While I prepare a lesson plan for each class, I have to be ready to improvise and adjust my tutoring and responses when necessary. My main interest is to make sure that I provide a comfortable and safe environment where students can feel free to express themselves when speaking in English.

In what ways do you think your experiences as a volunteer tutor have impacted you?

I retired from a high-level corporate career as a Risk Manager. My role was to provide my time and talent to benefit my employer, customers, and fellow employees. It has been a great pleasure and honor to be able to impact many students as individuals.

What inspires you?

My students inspire me every day! Learning English and adjusting to the U.S. culture takes many years. I admire their dedication, their thirst for learning, and their patience.

What would you say to others who are thinking about volunteering?

Volunteering has been a rewarding experience for me. This experience has made me proud to be an American citizen. I didn't realize how fortunate I was to live in the USA. I am very proud to share my first language and culture. I have been honored to learn some language and customs from our students, too!

Thank you so much for your dedication, Tom!

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