It was September 2009, and the new group of AmeriCorps members had only been with us for a little over a week. They had completed several days of training, and were now fully engrossed in fall registration activities. This was an intense time for the members, as they worked at site registrations all over Northern Virginia, processed data for all classroom students, and prepared for the Lead Teacher roles at their classes.
On that particular Thursday, I had worked from home, and was on my way to the Lorton evening registration. The AmeriCorps members were carpooling from the office and were planning to meet me early at the registration site to set up.
When I received a call from the members, I automatically assumed they wanted to let me know that they were lost or stuck in traffic and would be late. All four of the members were brand new to the area, and navigating the way to Lorton from Falls Church can be daunting for anyone the first time.
To my surprise, they were calling for an entirely different reason: they had arrived to Lorton early and had decided to stop for coffee and snacks, and just wanted to know if I would like them to pick up anything for me.
Almost 10 months later, I still remember this incident clearly because it really made an impression on me. Right then, I knew this was going to be another great group of members – not because they were offering to bring me food, but because they were so thoughtful on top of being responsible, dedicated, hard working, and passionate about LCNV’s mission!
This early impression has proven to be consistent throughout the entire year. The members have continued to perform outstanding work while acting as caring and professional representatives of the Council. All while being paid an AmeriCorps “living stipend”, which is a major sacrifice within itself.
Most classroom volunteers know that AmeriCorps members serve as Lead Teachers at the class sites, and are familiar with them teaching, providing support, and handling paperwork. Many people might not realize that AmeriCorps members do much more “behind the scenes” at LCNV as well.
All of the AmeriCorps members had special projects and participated in LCNV task forces throughout the year. There are too many projects to list here, but here are a few examples of their contributions:
- Erin Andrews has done a great job coordinating LCNV’s social media programs, keeping our blog updated and maintaining statistics on its usage.
- Matt Arnold has led a committee focused on improving service delivery to low-level learners in the classroom (these are often the students who need the most help).
- Courtney Pergal has expertly coordinated the classroom assessment (BEST Plus) activities, including implementing a new “tester team” process.
- Minta Trivette has worked on developing a mapping system based on demographic data to help LCNV determine the areas of greatest need in Northern Virginia.
As this group’s year of service is coming to an end, the LCNV staff can look back on the members’ accomplishments with pride and amazement. Of course, we feel a lot of sadness as well, as we know we’ll have to say goodbye soon. We hope the AmeriCorps members feel their time with LCNV was valuable as they move on to the next phase of their careers or education. I am confident that whatever paths they choose, they will be positive influences in the world and that their intelligence, kindness, and dedication will continue to shine through!
-Amy Moy, ESOL Learning Centers Specialist
The Council recently received a National Book Scholarship award from ProLiteracy, the largest adult literacy organization in the United States. This award provided the Council with almost $2,000 worth of books from ProLiteracy’s publication division, New Readers Press. Those of us connected with the Council’s tutoring programs were especially delighted with the award, since New Readers Press publishes many of the text series used with our learners. Thanks to the award, we were able to add additional copies of the student books and teachers’ manuals to the library. Tutors often like to try several different texts with their students before deciding which one would be best to use. Now they are less likely to be disappointed by finding that all the copies have been checked out.
Many of our learners are interested in obtaining their citizenship, and New Readers Press publishes an excellent series, entitled Citizenship: Passing the Test, which is designed to help students prepare for the interview. The materials are always in high demand by our tutors. The National Book Scholarship award enabled us to obtain additional copies of these books and accompanying audio CDs for the library. In addition, it provided us with additional copies of the series’ literacy skills workbook. Instead of being added to our library, these copies of the workbook will be distributed to tutors who are helping learners with especially low literacy skills prepare for the exam.
-Elise Bruml, Tutoring Programs Director
The mother of one of my friend’s is one of those magical connective people who will remember exactly where you left off in your last conversation and probably line you up with the job and/or man of your dreams during the course of an afternoon barbecue. Fabia is a beautiful example of the power of human relationships and the community they create. When we care about someone or something, we are willing to share what we have beit other relationships, money, education, food, knowledge, etc. When we opened Connections for Hope, it sought to create that sort of community.
Sarah Newman, is our own Queen Bee, she brought together the resources of several area organizations for Connections for Hope. Last Tuesday, staff from each of the partners at Connections for Hope came together to reflect, share, and celebrate the 6 months we’ve been open to the public and creating community. Together, over lunch, we took time sharing the progress of our programs and how we might be better at referring clients to one another. The array of services available are amazing from free clinics to world-wide children’s aide, homework help for immigrant children and our classrooms have a home there, too. I sat across some of the volunteers and staff from Jeanie Schmidt Free Clinic. They have doctors who not only volunteer their time, but have specializations detecting war trauma from the many African immigrants adults who use their services. They also hired a new counselor who is working to fill the need for mental health issues. Here at the Literacy Council, we’re working to address the more specialized unmet needs of our clients as we search for a new hire with a specialty in Learning Disabilities to especially help our Basic Adult Literacy Program. We are really excited and proud to be part of this vision. Hopefully, as time goes on, we’ll be sharing clients, space, and the time and talent of our staff to better serve the Northern Virginia community. I hope you’ll share the mission we’re so committed to with the people you care about, so they might share their time and talent, too.
-Katie Beckman, Program Assistant
Two weeks ago, the entire LCNV staff spent a really enjoyable day at Great Falls National Park for a staff retreat. After everyone contributed to a wonderful picnic lunch, we played soccer, played frisbee, played with our dogs, and took walks to the scenic overlook to observe the falls and to watch kayakers.
In addition to the operative word “play”, we said a tearful good-bye to both our AmeriCorps members and to Ruth Hansen, our wonderful AmeriCorps coordinator.
This was a fantastic bonding experience for our staff and a much needed mental health day. It also heralded an unofficial end to the past academic year before we gear up for the next one. We’re all looking forward to an exciting and busy fall!
~Randi Littman, Senior Director of Operations
The summer of 2010 has definitely been a busy one. Trying to juggle working at a restaurant, graduate classes, and an internship isn’t always easy, but it does feel good to keep myself busy. It feels especially good to truly enjoy the projects I am currently working on. Since beginning my internship with LCNV over a month ago, I have gradually begun taking on more responsibilities. Some of these responsibilities include projects that relate directly to what I’m currently studying, which is instructional design. Being able to work with the VOC task force on the Volunteer Online Community will allow me to apply my knowledge of instructional design to their vision.
The Volunteer Online Community will be an extension of the LCNV website, providing valuable information to both prospective and current volunteers. Things have been progressing quite well, as we have completed a site map (while working with Google Sites) and continue to work on incorporating other materials, including tutor and teacher handbooks, FAQ’s, and a message board that will allow volunteers to communicate with each other. Our goal is to create an interactive environment where volunteers can stay up to date on all LCNV trainings, in-services, and other events.
What has been particularly rewarding about joining the LCNV this summer is the fact that I am working towards what I believe to be a great cause. I firmly believe in the LCNV’s mission to teach adults the basic skills of reading, writing, speaking, and understanding English. Being a part of this mission is what makes volunteering for the LCNV so enjoyable. It also helps that the staff is so friendly and welcoming to newcomers. If you are looking for volunteer opportunities, the LCNV is a great place to start, as it can be truly gratifying to work towards making a difference in your community.
~Dave Lord, Intern
I’m not quite sure how it got to be August already, but here we are! Here at LCNV, we’re quickly getting back into gear for a very busy fall season. First thing on the agenda this August: ESOL tutor trainings!
LCNV is seeking new volunteer tutors to help area adults learn to speak, understand, read, and write English. The ESOL Tutoring Program works with non-English speakers (who are likely illiterate in their native language) who want to work on speaking, understanding, reading and writing English. Currently on a waiting list to be matched with tutors, these adult students are eager to improve their English literacy skills by working one-to-one with a trained volunteer.
Each tutor is trained, matched with a student, and encouraged to meet weekly for an hour and a half at a location convenient to both the volunteer and the student. The Literacy Council provides intensive tutor training at their Falls Church office prior to starting an assignment (there is a $40 fee to cover the costs of training materials). The next THREE-DAY training will take place in Falls Church on August 14, 21, and 28 (all Saturdays) at 9:30 am-3:30 pm. All three days are required. Absolutely no teaching experience or knowledge of foreign languages is required. All that’s needed is your willingness to promote adult literacy in the community and serve others!
This volunteer opportunity is perfect if you want to:
- Help people learn English, but feel more comfortable working with someone one-on-one rather than teaching in front of a group;
- Enjoy the flexibility of setting your own schedule with your student;
- Receive satisfaction from seeing an individual’s progress from month to month;
- Follow the structure of established, time-tested instructional materials, but still have room to be creative with your own ideas.
Could this be you? Please contact me at 703-237-0866 x111 or firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up for the next round of tutor trainings or to find out more. You can also check out our website at www.lcnv.org. If you’d rather not tutor, we have many more volunteer opportunities. Looking forward to hearing from you!
~ Belle Penaranda, Director of Volunteers
At a recent meeting, one of my colleagues asked what kept me up at night with worry. I responded, “The adults we don’t serve who need us the most!” This past year, the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia saw a drop in our ESOL class enrollment. As the economy tumbled, our low-income immigrant community took on extra work to survive, and school became a luxury they could no longer afford. Not that LCNV prices them out, we provide financial aid to anyone who needs it; the cost is in terms of time in lost wages.
The adults who attend class regularly and practice literacy and language skills at home make impressive gains. It is difficult for LCNV learners who are at the beginning literacy and language learning level, yet at the end of a twelve-week semester of classes, or 48 hours of consistent instruction, the dedicated learner is communicating and understanding English with much more confidence and skill. The trouble is that so many adults can’t make the commitment to continue learning when they work 18 hours a day. And yet, these are the adults who have the most to gain.
With the recent surge of immigration legislation, I have added another worry to my sleepless nights: How can we keep our clients safe! The adults who are doing their level best to support their families, cleaning our hotels, fixing our roofs in the blistering heat, spreading mulch in our gardens, working too hard and too long to be able to attend English class, cannot even drive home or stop by a local market without being threatened or harassed. How can adults improve their language skills and work-place skills when they are afraid to leave their homes?
The Literacy Council will be watching enrollment numbers this fall, hoping that slight improvements in the economic situation will enable learners to return to English class. It would be a shame, if not disgraceful, to witness another roadblock – fear – because of anti-immigrant legislation.
~ Patricia M. Donnelly, Executive Director