Meet Jenna

Meet Jenna

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“I actually first came [to OLC] because I had taught ESL internationally. I think that our students bring a lot to the community, and I can play my part by welcoming them to my country and just being a friend to them, and a teacher…helping them learn society here and culture here. Paul, the longtime OLC tutor trainer, said to me, ‘You should think about Americorps!’ I started in January, which is kind of weird because most Americorps members started in September. So I just kind of jumped in.

[What] makes my day every day is just seeing students, when they’re like, ‘I’ve done something really small,’ like a small accomplishment, but to them it’s so big. Or seeing their faces light up when you say, ‘Good job, you did it!’ A lot of times, when they are able to relax, that’s really nice. You can see them learning better when they’re able to just laugh and have fun. That encouragement is my favorite part [of my work], whether by me or by other students.

I used to think that literacy was just being able to read. But that’s not all. It involves everything; being able to communicate, being able to read, yes, but also to understand what [the text] means, to understand all the words, to be able to use that in real life…so I think that translates to every area of your life. If you know language, that is life. It translates to all areas of life.

One thing I really love [about OLC] is that it’s welcoming. The students enjoy it here. The staff is so welcoming; they always say hi; the students can stop in their offices and the staff will stop what they are doing to [greet them]. Even old students [stay in touch]. [Longtime teachers] will say, ‘I had a student contact me from 8 years ago!’ It’s because they felt so welcomed here. And I feel the same way. I can also translate that to my students. When a new student comes in, they are like, ‘Who are you? Where are you from?’ It’s like a family. That’s a big plus about this place, and I think that’s why we keep getting growth.

I think something I would like to see is more education for those who are not internationals, or more education from an international [perspective] to the community, because sometimes people don’t understand. [At OLC,] everybody’s learning; even the teachers are learning.”




Meet Mina

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“2004 is the first time I came to the United States. I have a Master’s degree in English education and English Literature was my Bachelor’s, so I was working at the university in Korea as an ESL instructor. My professor really wanted me to get a doctorate degree [in the US] so that I could work as a professor. So, that was my original plan. And then, instead of pursuing my doctorate degree, I got married. I wanted to have a baby in Korea, so I went back. I came back [to the US] in 2007, so from 2007, I’ve been here. That was the first year that I started [at OLC]. [Eventually] I became program director, which I have done for 10 years.

My favorite part of my day is interacting with volunteers, people with a passion for helping others, and students, who are in the same situation as I was when I started to learn English. I really feel like I’m helping because of my own experience learning English as a second language; I understand exactly how they’re struggling. Interacting with the students is a big part of my job; [I also] work with volunteers, telling them what the student is actually looking for, matching them. Sometimes they develop a friendship. Working with the students and volunteers is the core, key benefit of my job.

Literacy, to me, is independence. If I didn’t speak English, I’d have to rely on somebody. [With literacy] I can make my own decisions, instead of relying on a translator. It is a stepping-stone to better my education; because I can read and write, I can get higher education, which means more opportunity. Language is a tool [for students] to understand each other, culturally and everything. So whether you improve your English or not, you’re showing that you’re interested in learning, opening up your heart, and that makes [others] more willing to understand your culture, what you’re trying to say.

We want to welcome everybody, whether they are interns, volunteers, or students. We just open the door, like, ‘we don’t know what your goal is, but we will help you.’ A lot of students tell me that it goes beyond school; you can find friendship here, you can find a mentor, you can find different cultures. [One of our students] was a medical doctor in China; he cleans our building because he wants to give something back to our community. Sometimes volunteers come just to enjoy a coffee, because there are always students speaking all different languages, like music. People here are willing to share, willing to help, willing to understand. It’s not only just one thing. That’s what I want to continue to accomplish.”


Meet Andrea

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“I’ve been on the OLC board for over two years this year. I got involved initially through a friend; I told her that I wanted to do some more volunteer work. I had done a lot of volunteering with the Center for Equality and the Red Cross, but I had stopped because I was concentrating on grad school. She said, ‘You read a lot.’ I said, ‘Yes.’ She said, ‘You know literacy’s important, right?’ I was like, ‘Of course it’s important!’ She said, ‘You can get involved [at OLC], I can make that connection.’

I joined as a general board member, then I was elected secretary. When it was time to get a new slate of officers, it was actually proposed to me to consider [being Chair], and I decided to do it because I thought it would be a good way to learn what it was like. I’ve done a lot of nonprofit work, but this is my first time on a board. I joke around, like, ‘You guys must be pretty desperate if you want me to do it,’ because I’ve never chaired a board before, but I’m happy that they’re trusting me. I see Ozark Literacy Council really engaging our donors and gaining more than we’ve ever had. We should be more visible, more seen. I think we need that, because the work we do is so important. The people that come into the building, it’s like a family, for sure. I know what it’s like to feel like an outsider. So if you come in and it’s like a home, I just want that for even more people. I see the program growing, and I’d just like to see more of that. Considering the small staff we have and all the volunteer work that goes in, we make a huge impact.

Literacy, to me, is a way to understand and empower. For instance, if you can’t understand the language in documents or the things in your world that really affect your life, it really diminishes your access to resources. I think of our Tyson program, where we have people who are working really hard and supporting their families. There are just parts of the culture that they work in, the business that they work in, that they just weren’t able to understand because of the language barrier. So, I think that it’s about quality of life, but also about fully understanding what’s going on around you.

My favorite author is Neil Gaiman. Reading is like an escape for me, and he has a way of writing that really turns off the outside world. I like that. Also, some of the language he uses is very intellectual and next-level. I’ve been  reading his books before and come across a word I don’t know and I’m like, ‘I’m going to go look that up.’ It makes me smarter, it just does. And it’s cool to be smarter.”


Meet Xiaoming

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Flowers“I arrived at this city with my husband last autumn. Before we came here, we lived in a very beautiful small town in Tennessee. Most of the people there were Americans.  English is almost the only language that was used in that town. Like most Chinese people my age, I learned English almost from childhood. We spent lots of time reading and learning English grammar but we seldom had a chance to practice our speaking and listening. When I came here, I found that speaking and listening were a big problem. When I read, yes, it was easy, but when I listened everything was different from what I learned at school. The problem was becoming more and more severe. I felt very nervous because I couldn’t communicate well with others. And language is almost the only tool for communication. I decided I should practice my language and began to search material online. I learned things, but it was boring to study alone. My husband told me that religion is a part of American culture and life.  I didn’t associate with any religions before but I didn’t refuse to learn and communicate with believers. I thought I could go to church to learn something about American culture, practice my listening and speaking, and find out what I could do for others. It’s so difficult for me to learn unfamiliar things, though people were so kind to help me. When we moved to Fayetteville, I decided to find a language school to learn English. One day my husband told me his colleagues had told him there was a language school called OLC near his office. We thought we could go there and have a look. We didn’t realize that everything would change after I entered the school.

I’ve been at OLC almost one year. I practice and improve my English here. It’s not an ordinary language school, it’s like a big family. We learn and enjoy the atmosphere here. Every morning I am the first student to arrive at school. Teachers here are so nice and students are from different countries. I was a medical professor in China for more than 10 years but it was so exciting for me to sit in a classroom and study like a student again. I learned not just the language but also the history and culture, which help me to understand America differently. I still remember the first class I took here was Paul’s class. He gave us a lesson about American pop music. I had heard some about American music but I didn’t think that I liked it—too noisy. But Paul introduced the background and history of the music. When I learned that, American music meant something different to me than before.  ‘Ah! This music is very interesting! It also has a kind of history.’

My classmates are from all over the world.  We use our different “Englishes” to talk to each other. It is an amazing feeling and experience. Now, other countries’ names are not just a name, a word to me. They have vivid and diverse meanings. Two of our students are from Iran and Saudi Arabia. When they first came and met each other at OLC, one would say something and the other would challenge him because of their different cultures. But after studying together for a very long time, they became very close friends. I am often touched by such things and also have learned to care about world events. I think the most important thing I learned here is thinking for myself. I used to just listen to my teachers, my parents, and my bosses. I didn’t care about, ‘is it right? Is it correct?’ But now I think for myself.

There are other students from China that study here at OLC who have more trouble with English than I. It’s really difficult for them to live a normal life. When we had class, I would translate everything that the teacher said to them. Some wished to quit the class because they felt it was too difficult for them. Then, Mina [our program director] came to me with a suggestion: ‘Can you teach them and help them?’ I said that I could try. Eventually I had five students; I taught them and saw their progress. They would say, ‘Today I learned which door is exit and which is entrance;’ ‘Yesterday I found the restroom myself.’ If they don’t know the signs, they don’t know which restroom is for men and women, or even which door is pull or push. I think I can use my teaching experience to help people, which is very exciting. I never knew that volunteering in America was popular until I got here. I got a lot of help from others when I came here first and now I want to do something to help others. My husband encouraged me. He said, ‘Perhaps you cannot be a physician, but you can do something good for society and for your community.’ It makes me feel satisfied. You learn something, you give that to another student, and you hope to improve their life.”



Meet Ryann

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“Being a part of Americorps through the literacy council has taught me a multitude of lessons, but the most important and heart-pleasing aspect will always be the students.  From full classes to small classes the students have been the reason I have come back every day to teach. They are some of the hardest workers I know and it has been a joy to teach them a powerful skill these past few months.  Along the way, they have given me glimpses into their lives, from the daily ups and downs to how they miss their family and most importantly their dreams.

For most of my time teaching, I have taught the beginner level class, which has its own challenges and its own rewards. I’ve also spent my entire time teaching the night classes.  The work ethic and determination of these beginning night students is a constant reminder of the sacrifice these wonderful people made to be in this country.  All of these students have full time jobs, most of them have families, and they still dedicate 2 hours a night multiple times a week to learn a skill to better their lives.  This has always and will continue to amaze me, and I thank the students deeply for allowing me to be a part of it.”

Meet Molly

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Photo of Molly Jensen“Long before I started doing it through the University [of Arkansas], I’ve always been involved with local nonprofits, sitting on boards in various capacities. So, it was time [for me to serve]. And the Ozark Literacy Council, it’s just such a fabulous organization. It seems like everyone on the board is willing to work; having a board where everyone seems engaged is super important. It makes for an enjoyable experience.

Literacy is such a basic dividing line, societally. If you don’t have literacy there’s an entire chunk of dominant society that you really don’t have access to. You don’t have access to the ability of understanding easy tax forms or what you’re signing up for when you vote…basic human rights as far as I’m concerned. And the inability to read just makes life in general so much more complicated and difficult. So literacy’s really important. An important aspect of what OLC does that they didn’t really intend to do…[is] an introduction to culture. The OLC plays this role for so many ESL students. So along with [teaching English] I think Ozark Literacy plays a role as an introduction to [U.S.] culture for these families. The teachers play a role in helping people know how to connect with services and take advantage of [resources]… teaching people not only what’s in the United States but more specifically what’s in Northwest Arkansas. And I think in our current political climate [OLC] being a place where people can feel safe and learn about a culture should not be underestimated.”

Meet Mukandama

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“I am a Congolese by nationality. When the war started in 1996, I ran. I got myself up to Kenya. I was there more than 18 years; I had a whole life there as a refugee. By that time, we started our life with my wife. We had five children [of our own] and 2 daughters that we adopted. So we had 7. Life in Kenya as a refugee had many challenges; [it was difficult] to afford that family, so we had to work harder. I was a teacher, a French teacher in Nairobi, Kenya, at a primary school, for almost 14 years. I also did my theology classes; I was a pastor at a Baptist church for almost 7 years. The challenge with most of the churches is that we work by faith—no salary. The salary for my teaching French class… was able to pay the rent and to buy some stuff. The rest was my wife. She was also contributing to afford to raise the family. So, the life in Kenya, we thank God for that. [Then] we started our process to ask for resettlement from the UN; around 3 years ago, we were accepted for resettlement by the U.S. Embassy. The process [was long]: interview, come, going, come, going, year after year. [Eventually] we were called. They said, “Your time has come now.” And we came to the USA. It was our first time to use an airplane. We went from Nairobi to Dubai, Dubai to California, California to Dallas, and Dallas to Arkansas. I have been here for 2 months and 14 days. Most of the time [at OLC] we are discussing to improve our English speaking. It’s really important [to learn English]. I have to work. When you are working, you have to meet people. And the language they use there, it is only English. So that is why I have to polish my English. In the future some years ahead, I’m going to start my ministry. My ministry is for spreading the word of God, preaching, and that job needs a lot of English.”

Meet Fernanda

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“My name is Fernanda Kanashiro; [my last name] is from Japanese origin, but I’m from Brazil. My family relatives were immigrants from Japan. I came here because of my husband, because he is [working post-doctorate] at the U of A. I used to work as a doctor—I was a pediatrician [in Brazil]. But now I’m just starting to study again. Some of my husband’s friends at the U of A told him about the Ozark Literacy Council. I came here just to figure out if I was able to practice and improve my English because it’s been a long time since I’ve studied at school. I was really amazed when I discovered that you have this place here; that it’s free for anybody that wants to learn English at different levels, so it’s really a great place to be. I’ve been here for about 3 weeks. I already had studied English in Brazil, but I didn’t have the chance to talk and to speak with different people; for that reason I think that my English was rusty and I couldn’t find the words sometimes. Since I’ve started here, I think it’s getting better every day, because you have to talk with students and everybody’s native language is different. One thing that we have in common is the English, so it’s really good to practice… If I can pass the TOEFL test, I can start to study again, maybe in another field. In my field, it’s difficult to validate my diploma; it takes some time. I don’t think I want to do it again, because I have so many other things I am interested in. I was really excited and really glad that I found this place because…you feel so welcomed, and people are very gentle. You have the chance to mingle with people from all over the world. It’s one of the most important things here, because we have the chance to exchange culture, to know what other people think. We have a separated world, so many fights, so much segregation. Here, everybody’s equal, everybody’s together, and everybody has the same goal, to study and improve in English. I know that so many lives are changing because they have this chance to learn English for free. I think it’s very beautiful work.”

Meet Ghadir

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Ghadir Goodarzy is an Iranian immigrant who has been attending classes at the Ozark Literacy Council for the last 8 months. Ghadir’s story shows the value of OLC’s diverse community and the cultural skills taught here.

“Around a year ago I decided totally to immigrate to the United States. My son is doing his Ph.D. at the U of A here; the reason I just came to Fayetteville is because of my son…I found here a very beautiful and nice place to live for my age; the climate is very nice and all the expenses are very [low] here. I started coming [to OLC] and I found all the people very nice and helpful. I didn’t expect that a free organization could be all that nice which people are to me.” When Ghadir was asked about learning English, he said:   “I’ve known a lot of people from my country who are my age who have come here; they are not able to speak English, so it can be very boring for them. If I have decided to stay in this country, I am supposed to improve my English and, apart from that, I am supposed to get familiar with your traditions, your customs…I usually ask strange questions from teachers here, like, ‘when you go to somebody’s house, are you supposed to buy a present?’ I’m very interested to learn all these customs. I’ve found a lot of friends here; it’s somewhat like an international institute, so that you can be familiar with different customs from different people from different countries, which is very interesting for me.”


Meet Irma

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Irma Gonzalez was orphaned at the age of eight. She had to drop out of school in the second grade to help provide for her siblings. She came to the U.S. 20 years ago and was nonliterate in her native language. Irma began attending OLC classes through a pilot program at a Tyson plant in April of 2016. When she first started coming to class she did not speak any English. She and her instructor we were only able to communicate through a few Spanish words and the help of Google Translate. She came to class prepared with a few sheets of paper and a pocket dictionary that has survived floods and fires, and only has a fraction of the pages left. She didn’t know what the words in the dictionary said, but she has been studying them since she was a girl.

Irma and her teacher Brandi began with the English alphabet. Within two weeks, Irma recognized every letter and their sounds. She and Brandi both cried when she had all 26 letters. In the following weeks, she began sounding out words. Irma was beginning to read! This 57 year old woman read her first words at 5 A.M., an hour before her shift started, and after a night of raising three of her grandchildren. Irma and Brandi now have basic conversations and Irma is picking up more vocabulary each day. She practices her reading skills with children’s books that she reads with her eight-year-old granddaughter every night. She says hello to her coworkers who don’t speak Spanish. She tells Brandi she loves her every morning when they part ways. On Tuesday, June 28, Irma made her first doctor’s appointment by herself. She went in and filled out the forms, in English, for the first time unassisted. The things many people can take for granted, like being able to do simple tasks without having to ask for help, are now becoming a possibility for Irma.

Irma attends ESL class at the Tyson plant at 4:30 in the morning before she starts her 12-hour shift. At the end of her shift, she goes home and takes care of three children and her household. Without this program, she wouldn’t have a chance to take an English class. 4:30 in the morning is the only extra time she has; she is far too busy to attend class at any other time.

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