“I first heard about OLC because I volunteered there three years ago over the summer. When I graduated [from college], I was moving back here, and I loved volunteering there, so I decided to apply for the Americorps position. I’ve been at OLC with Americorps since October. I’ve been teaching the beginning level and the pronunciation class. My pronunciation class has all levels; sometimes the advanced students come, but they also have a separate pronunciation class. I teach the beginning class in the mornings.
I was an English major, so I know that words are really important. When people move here and the community is new to them, [literacy] really helps them to become a part of the community and to build relationships. It keeps them from being taken advantage of and allows them to take advantage of the systems that we have as well. Literacy is a way of communicating what’s inside you in a way that other people can understand. Even just being able to speak and communicate how you feel lets you…get help or build friendships. It’s a way to combat isolation and feeling alone. It’s also a way to understand different ideas and perspectives, because if you’re literate you can read and learn about different people and places. It opens a lot of opportunities for jobs. A lot of the students have come from these really difficult situations, so I’d love for them to have a community here, and feel like this is home. I think literacy helps with that.
I have so many [students that inspire me]. [One student] from Honduras…she’s a single mom and she works really hard. I’ve seen the way that she’s working so hard to improve her literacy for her daughter; because we work with adults, that’s a lot of their stories. They are trying to help their children. I have another couple of students from El Salvador. Neither of them received any formal education in Spanish. They are trying to learn to read and write at all, not having any background in Spanish, but their brains are so creative and they are able to learn faster in other ways. So the fact that they can’t read or write at all has been really inspiring to me and [shows] just how resilient brains are. If you don’t have a certain skillset, [you can still] adapt. A lot of my students work the evening shift so they get home late and then they get up early to go to class. I could go on and on; I love [my students] so much. Thinking about them makes me tear up a little bit. They work so hard. It’s just been an amazing experience. It’s not about my experience, because it’s about them, but it’s been so cool to see them learning.
[OLC] is wonderful. I feel like it’s really unique; I’ve never encountered another community like it. It’s such a diverse community, with so many people from different places and backgrounds and languages, but they’re all so kind and accommodating and hardworking. I think it’s really opened my eyes to the whole world, because I’ve met people from all these places that I’d love to visit but might not ever go to. It’s given me a window. All of the students I’ve encountered have been so kind; they’re the best people. I think it’s such a safe community for the students who are scared to speak because practicing English is so scary. But it’s also [safe] for me. I’ve never taught before, so I was so nervous when I first started, but [the students] were so encouraging, even though they were the ones learning. So I think it’s a safe space for everyone, and everyone is really focused on others and trying to build an inclusive community. Everyone I’ve worked with has been so encouraging and kind as well. To be in this sort of work, you have to have a certain level of empathy, but everyone I’ve met has such a genuine kind heart. So that’s probably my favorite thing about it. It’s ruined me for all future jobs! [She laughs.]
I hope that [OLC] continues to expand their services to take even more students on, to have more one-on-one time with all of the students. I think, though a lot of people do know about OLC, not a ton [of people know]. [I’d like] if the whole community could know, so if they see someone out and about, say, in a coffee shop, that’s struggling with English, they could say, ‘here’s a resource for you.’ I expect OLC will continue for a long, long time, because it’s very needed. We need more places like OLC, especially in this tumultuous time.”