These words — change a life, be a tutor — sum up what it means to volunteer for the Literacy Council Gulf Coast. I have had the privilege of helping students learn or improve their English.for more than five years. These students willingly come to the council in the hopes that understanding and speaking English will give them a leg up in their pursuit of a (better) job, of being able to communicate with their children’s teachers, of fitting in more comfortably as a productive member of the community, and, for many, of moving toward the goal of becoming an American citizen. They are eager to learn, deeply appreciative, and thrilled when they reach an “ah ha” moment in their learning.

What does it take to be a tutor? Simply a desire and willingness to make a difference in someone’s life. While most tutors volunteer about 2 half days per week, the council staff works with you to best meet your schedule and to match you with a student whose level of need you are most comfortable with. What does it not take to be a tutor? You don’t need to have an advanced degree. You don’t need to have been a teacher. You don’t need to know a foreign language. You don’t need to be a full time resident.

The Literacy Council Gulf Coast’s mission is “To assist adults and children to acquire the literacy skills necessary to improve their quality of life”. It is a non-profit 501 (c)3 organization which receives no government funding. Last year over 3,200 students were served by talented and willing volunteers. In addition to learning English, students can study pronunciation, writing, conversation, GED readiness and reading.

If this type of volunteer work inspires you to learn more about the Council, please call 239 676 5202 or visit their office at 26820 Old 41 Rd. in Bonita Springs. Remember, you can make a difference. And I can guarantee you that you will gain a friend, not just a student.

– Brenda Sperry

US Citizenship tutor Etta Smith honored new US citizens with a patriotic themed party.

“C” is about 50 and came to this country from Costa Rica. I worked with him to prepare him for his U.S. citizenship test. We used flash cards to test him on U.S. History, civics and geography. He passed with flying colors, and when the day came for his swearing-in ceremony, neither his wife (who was working) nor I could attend. “C” took his camera with him and, using a small tripod, recorded the entire ceremony. At our next lesson, he proudly shared with me the video he had taken. He now brags to his grandchildren about his citizenship. To show his appreciation for our literacy program, he has volunteered in the office to help us call Spanish-speaking students about upcoming events.

A Puerto Rican couple, eager to learn, began to meet with me for small but specific goals for learning English: finding a free pet, filling out work-related forms, shopping for groceries and clothes, repairing cars. Later, the goals became more serious: dealing with health issues and work, for instance, or handling being short-changed at a cash register. Later still, “J” admitted that four times he had failed the test to enter the armed services. He did well on all but the English (of course) and the mathematics sections (fun for me since I had not worked with algebra and plane geometry for more years than I care to admit).

For half of our sessions each week we worked on these two areas. He passed the test, joined the Coast Guard, sailed through boot camp (he was the only Spanish speaker) and eventually was stationed in Miami where his wife, “E” had their first child. She entered a program for medical technology. (At the end of our sessions, I usually read from “Tuesdays with Morrie.” They labeled our sessions “Wednesdays with Marian.” I still miss them.)

I had a basic student, “A,” who had slipped through the cracks. Initially, she simply wanted to improve her spelling. An overwhelming number of needs soon developed. For instance, she was afraid to write checks, she had never cooked from a recipe (she was 38), she had never understood how to use a ruler. We worked together for more than a year and she made amazing improvements for one so neglected.

Most moving to me was her reading a novel simply for pleasure. After she finished it, she asked for and read yet another novel. The last I heard she was applying to cosmetic school. A single mother, she worked as a maid at a motel, making only $12,000 a year. She refused any assistance besides the school hot lunch program for her daughter. She is truly admirable.

I worked with a lawyer in Venezuela who sought and received asylum in the United States. We worked on improving his English so that he could take his real estate license test. He received his license, and just this spring he graduated as a paralegal from Edison State.

One of my students, “A,” came to our country from the Czech Republic after his junior year in high school. Because he was 18, he could not finish high school in public school, so while I was tutoring him in English, we worked on preparing for his GED. He passed the test on his first try, missing only two questions each in science and mathematics and breezing through his essay. He was the brightest student I worked with, and is hoping to become a biological chemist. He has become a family friend.

Marilyn’s English class

I have been teaching an intermediate English class at the Literacy Council for about two years. When I started, all of the students were from Spanish-speaking countries, so they often would converse with one another in Spanish. The past few months the class has become more diverse. I have students from Mexico, Central and South America, Belarus, Thailand and Turkey. This has changed the class dynamic.

I have told the students they can no longer converse in Spanish because it would be impolite to the non-Spanish-speaking students. The students are interested in finding the various countries on the globe and learning about these countries from their classmates. Ancharee from Thailand has taken Francisco who is from Mexico to eat at a local Thai restaurant.

He tried Thai food for the first time. Sevda is from Turkey. She agreed to teach some of the other women from the class how to belly dance. They met at Veronica’s house. Veronica is from Bolivia. They shared native dishes from their countries. The students are becoming friends and they are communicating with one another in English. I have 12 students in my class now, representing 10 countries.

– Marilyn, tutor

Peppermint tree preschool and child care center in Fort Myers has been pleased with the Literacy Council’s work with English language learners. We have noticed significant progress when children enter our Voluntary Pre Kindergarten (VPK) after attending the Moms and Tots Family Literacy Program. The children have a much better grasp of English, easing their transition to preschool activities and learning concepts. Our VPK children are extremely happy and we look forward to working with them for the 2011-2012 school year!

-Lucia, owner and Lynn, director

The twins were ideal students They were totally prepared for kindergarten. They knew some of the alphabet, could count to 20, and could write their names. They also knew how to behave in a school setting. They were eager to learn and to help. They enjoyed participating in any subject area. The fact that they would compete with each other was a motivating tool to use. Their Pre-K experience contributed to their success here.

Students who attend a Pre-K program are academically prepared for kindergarten. These students know how to socialize and were exposed to appropriate school behavior. I would recommend that you continue with this vital service and would be glad to get any student who has been a part of your program.

-Eva, Collier School District