Saturday, December 18, 2010

Ghost Writing for the United Way

Over the past couple of years, I've gotten involved with the cause of adult literacy.  I was fortunate enough to find a great organization in NJ, Literacy Volunteers of Union County, that needed not only tutors but people who were willing to take on a leadership role.  I joined the Board and promptly took on the "positions" of head of the PR/Communications Committee and tutor liaison.  I also started writing a monthly two page newsletter for the tutors that told stories about people's tutoring experiences and provided resources and ideas.  It was both fun and gratifying, so finding something to fill the void when we moved to Florida was going to be a challenge. 

While in Chester last summer, I reached out to Leslie Isley, head of the Adult Learning Center in Port Charlotte.  Our conversation started off in a funny manner.  I explained that I was interested in finding out more about adult literacy programs in Charlotte County and she immediately asked me what my goals were.  I realized that she thought I was a potential student calling for information!  I quickly backed up and explained my move to Punta Gorda, what I had been doing in NJ and that I was interested in finding out if there was a fit for me here.  We agreed to get together when I arrived in October.

There's lots to tell about the differences between LV-UC and the Adult Learning Center, but of course there are lots of commonalities as well--the first being that there are never enough volunteers!  After spending some time talking, Leslie and I decided that I would write a quarterly newsletter for the Center and a student success story to be published in the Charlotte Sun, a local newspaper.  She explained that the local United Way had asked each of its grantees, including the Center, to put something together to showcase the work they are doing.   Leslie and I met with the student whose story they wanted to feature and I started putting the article together.   A few days later Leslie told me that a success story was featured in the paper that day if I wanted to look at a sample.  I did, and learned that the article would appear under the byline of the head of the local United Way.  Hmm.  I was still happy to work on the article but I have to admit that it became a little less exciting once I realized that my name would not be in lights.  (I know--there's definitely something wrong with that, but I think it is human nature.)  Anyway, the article appeared in yesterday's paper and, though it's a bit long, I thought I'd share it here (without the bit of United Way wrap around it).   I really am proud of all the adults who work hard to overcome language or learning barriers to make better lives for themselves and am thankful for all of the advantages that I've been given.  One of the nice things about "retirement" is being able to give back, and I'm looking forward to having the opportunity to work on behalf of adult learners in Charlotte County in 2011. 

Another United Way Success Story  

Earlier this year at the Adult Learning Center, you might have come across Ginette Frederic, a volunteer ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) tutor, working with a student to improve her English skills.  The willingness of any volunteer tutor to help people learn to read, write and speak better English is always commendable and noteworthy.  In this case, however, the story is particularly notable because Ginette herself was an ESOL student at the Center.

A native of Haiti, Ginette has lived in Port Charlotte for 20 years.  Her journey to make a better life for herself and her family started in Venezuela in the early 1980s.  Ginette grew up speaking Creole and French so her first challenge upon her arrival in Venezuela was to learn enough Spanish to find employment.  She taught herself by watching TV and listening to and talking with those around her. With time, she was able to find work—sometimes as a maid, sometimes as a factory worker.  Ginette still hoped for more, though, and America, the land of opportunity, beckoned to her.  She uprooted her family and once again moved to a country whose language she did not speak, ending up outside of Boston.  Ginette was able to take a few English classes, but she primarily taught herself to speak and read a new language for a second time. The wintry weather did not agree with Ginette and her family, so in 1990 they relocated to sunny Port Charlotte. 

Once Ginette arrived in Florida she took a class at what is now the Charlotte Technical Center and obtained her Florida Certified Nurse Aide license.  Over the years, Ginette has worked as a CNA and a phlebotomist in nursing homes and hospitals around Charlotte County.  Last summer, she was laid off from her job.  Ginette heard about the ESOL program at the Adult Learning Center  (the Center) from a friend and took this opportunity to make an investment in herself and her future.  She was interested in improving her vocabulary and grammar, and started taking classes at the Center in August.  She entered the program at an intermediate level and within six weeks had leap-frogged two levels to an advanced class.  Teacher Lynne Kinnier says that Ginette’s passion to achieve was evident from the start.  Ginette attended twice the number of classes and completed at least twice the amount of recomended homework each week.  In effect, working on her English skills became her job and her hard work has paid off.  In October, Ginette “graduated” from the ESOL program to the Adult Basic Education (ABE) program and is now working towards obtaining her GED.  

When Ginette transitioned from the ESOL program to the ABE program, Lynne asked her if she would be willing to tutor beginning ESOL students who need some extra help.  Ginette readily agreed, and started meeting with a couple of students, working with them outside of the classroom on their reading and pronunciation and teaching them how to look up that they didn’t understand words in the dictionary.  Ginette embraced this opportunity to help others while continuing to learn herself.  Ginette recently found employment but will continue with her own classes at the Center while working full time. Ginette hopes to become a social worker one day and says that she doesn’t think that she’s too old to attain her goal.  With an attitude and work ethic like hers, I don’t think so either. 

The speed at which Ginette has progressed through the ESOL classes at the Center may be unique but the hard work and determination that she has exhibited is not.  All of the students taking classes at the Center are doing so in an effort to better their lives and they are accomplishing this goal, sometimes in large ways, sometimes in small ways.  The Charlotte Local Education Foundation (CLEF) provides funding to the Center, making it possible for students like Ginette to contribute to and be productive members of our great country. Without the financial support that CLEF receives from the United Way of Charlotte County and its other sponsors, the educational gains of these students would not be possible.   We applaud Ginette and all of the Center’s students for making an investment in themselves and their futures.

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