Since 1986, Literacy Volunteers Fox Valley has been championing the local literacy movement — and not just in words.
“What it offers people is the English language: How to read, write, speak and understand English more effectively,” said Peg Coker, the organization’s executive director. “But it’s so much more than that.
“It’s been said that our tutors are more like community ambassadors, as another aspect of the training is that we’re helping people acclimate to the community and understand how to be more involved citizens, how to be more effective parents, and get involved in the school system and their children’s education, … and become better workers and give their best to their employer. [Our adult learners] come from 30 different countries, and they want to live here for the same reasons that we do. They want to live in safe neighborhoods and send their children to good schools.”
Literacy Volunteers Fox Valley’s mission is to help local adults acquire the literacy skills that they need to function more effectively in the fast-paced, modern-day American society.
They accomplish that through generous donors and community support, and through engaged and dedicated volunteers who aim to help the estimated 42,000 adults in Kane County who need to improve their English, Coker said.
Literacy Volunteers Fox Valley’s 215 tutors work with roughly 300 adult learners every year, she added.
“The program was really the brainchild of Norm Huntley who was president of the Board of Trustees at St. Charles Public Library at the time, and as a matter of fact is still a library Board of Trustees,” Coker said.
“He saw some census statistics that said that there was a large number of people in our area who didn’t have a high school diploma, and he thought that that was an indication that some of them might not have reading skills. And being on the Board of Trustees at the library, he thought that this that there should be something done about that. The Community Colleges have classes, but there wasn’t any type of one-to-one effort going on anywhere,” she explained.
“[Tutors] don’t need a teaching background or a second language,” she added. “The best tutors will listen and just give practical advice. In America, we speak very quickly, and we expect people to respond very quickly. To someone who doesn’t have a very large storage of words available to them to express themselves, that can be quite intimidating.
“People who come to the United States and don’t have a lot of English, just don’t have a lot of words, so they may take two minutes to explain something that you and I might be able to explain in 30 seconds. They just need more words to express themselves.”
Area residents who are interested in volunteering as a tutor need to attend one of three upcoming four-session tutor training workshops, all held from at the St. Charles Public Library. (See box for more information).
“The training really prepares you for everything that you will need to do,” Coker said. “We start out by talking about how teaching adults is a little different than teaching children. We show how to test people so they know where to start, and then a method that they can use to fill an hour’s worth of tutoring time with techniques and ideas to help the students meet their goals.
“The training takes place at the St. Charles Public Library, but the tutoring was always take place in a public area,” Coker said. “Many libraries open their doors to our tutors, and they can also go to coffee shops. We also have relationships with some employers, like RR Donnelley who lets our tutors come in on their [employees’] lunch breaks. And sometimes when a student is in a situation where they’re inside all day long, sometimes just walking and talking [is the best way to spend that hour].”
Literacy Volunteers Fox Valley actually asked its tutors not that long ago how they see their roles, and the responses confirm for Coker and her staff that they are on the right track.
“They see themselves as more than tutors, and they said that it’s really so much more than just a simple English lesson. Tutors are mentors, they’re friends, they’re confidants, they’re resources.
“We’ve had tutors [help] their students get citizenship, get better jobs, help understand what goes on at parent/teacher conferences,” Coker said. “They help the students achieve something they want to accomplish, or just simply misunderstand. We have one woman who has been a tutor with us for 25 years. And we have one student learner pair who became friends: The student was originally from Poland … and they went to visit Poland together.”
HOW TO GET INVOLVED
Area residents who are interested in volunteering as a tutor with the Literacy Volunteers of Fox Valley need to attend one of three upcoming four-session tutor training workshops:
- June 14, 16, 21 ,23;
- July 12, 14, 19, 21;
- Aug. 8, 10, 15, 17.
All sessions are held from 6:30-9 p.m. at the St. Charles Public Library, 1 S. Sixth Ave.
Volunteers need to be 21 years old and have a solid command of the English language.
— Fox Valley literacy organization seeks local volunteer tutors —