Editor’s note: This is one in a series of occasional stories about volunteers in our community.
Anne Walker doesn’t draw a paycheck from the Adult Learning Center for her work helping a Chinese immigrant learn English so he can realize his dream of becoming a U.S. citizen.
But she definitely gets paid.
There are the heartfelt smiles and bows of respect. And then there are the gifts, given out of gratitude, received with thanks and humility.
“Yesterday I went to my student’s home to look at his work schedule to set up a time for tutoring, and I came home with 10 pounds of Chinese vegetables — I have no idea what these things are, but they are very exotic looking,” Walker said, laughing.
But Walker doesn’t tutor English language learners for the tangible benefits. It’s the intangibles that fuel her fire. Like watching students’ glazed looks of confusion melt as they begin to recognize letters, sounds and then words.
Walker’s volunteer work with the Adult Learning Center won her a nomination for the United Way Roger Hill Volunteer Center’s Wallace Galluzzi Outstanding Volunteer Award.
“Anne is really good at everything she does. She has a great, positive attitude,” said Norma Harrod, a classroom teacher at the Adult Learning Center.
The volunteer tutors are a godsend, Harrod said, because so many of the students can benefit from individual attention. Each class may include people from 14 different countries, many of whom have not received formal education past the second grade. The goal is to help students gain the basic language skills they need to succeed in their new country — to find employment, live independently and interact with the English speakers around them.
“There is one teacher in the classroom trying to accommodate all these different learners,” said Sharen Steele, director of adult education at the Adult Learning Center and Diploma Completion Program.
Having volunteer tutors takes a huge load off the teachers, Steele said. And, it gives students support they might not receive otherwise.
“Most of the students are working minimum wage jobs, so hiring a tutor might be cost-prohibitive,” Walker said.
For Walker, helping people learn to read is a passion. She began tutoring adult learners in 1991.
“I take such pleasure in reading and thought about people who are unable to read anything and how they get through life,” she said. “How do they read signs while driving? Advertising? Medicine bottles? We read all the time and take it for granted.”
The student Walker works with has been in the United States 12 years but, because of a learning disability, has had trouble mastering English. Despite the obstacles he faces, he is determined not only to learn the language but to pass the immigration exam and become a citizen. Walker plans to be with him each step of the way.
“What a service this is to him,” Steele said. “Otherwise, it might take ages for him to be able to learn English skills.”
Steele said there is always a need for volunteer tutors at the Adult Learning Center. For more information, contact Steele at 785-330-4615.