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Mentor Month Profile: Literacy Volunteers

January is National Mentoring Month, and our United Way Volunteer Center is sharing mentor stories all month long. We are hosting our annual Mentor and Tutor Volunteer Fair on Friday, January 30 from 11:00 – 2:00. You can meet 14 location organizations that need volunteers to be mentors and tutors. To learn more about the local organizations attending the fair, who would love to help you become a mentor or tutor, visit CvilleVolunteer.org.

Literacy volunteer photoMeet Tutor Louise Proffitt & Her Student Santos

Like many LVCA tutors, becoming a tutor was on Louise Proffitt’s radar for a long time. Proffitt spent most of her career as a special education instructor, retiring from Charlottesville High School in 2007, and it was during her time in the public schools that the challenges of English language learners first grabbed her attention.

“I always had my eye on the ESL population at the high school because there was always a lot of cross-over. They had trouble passing SOLs (Standards of Learning), and so did [my students],” she explained. After retirement, she worked part-time as a tutor for special needs and ESL students working on their English SOLs, which led her to volunteering with the Adult Learning Center in one of their ESL classrooms. At the time, she was traveling back and forth to take care of her ailing mother in Delaware. “I was afraid to take on any major commitments and it was easy to go in once or twice a week to help the instructor,” Proffitt explained. After her mother passed away, she felt ready to get more involved and signed up for Literacy Volunteers New Tutor Training in the fall of 2012. Shortly thereafter she was matched with Santos, a young man from Mexico with whom she still works.

In some ways, Literacy Volunteers was on Santos’s radar for a long time as well. When he first moved to the United States in 2001, he thought he would only be here for a few years and wasn’t committed to learning English. However, when his eldest son, now age 10, entered school, he began to realize the importance of being able to communicate with his teachers. Soon, his four-year-old daughter will also be entering school, doubling the importance for him.

“I know he’s going to need some help with the homework and it’s not going to be in Spanish. So that’s the first thing that pushed me to start looking for places to go learn English,” Santos explained. He was drawn to Literacy Volunteers program because of the one-on-one format and the ability to focus on his main goals, which are to improve his reading and writing. Now, he and his son are at similar reading levels and practice reading and writing together in the evenings.

“Now [my son] can tell me a little bit about the homework and I can get it very fast and I can help him,” said Santos. Santos’s improved English is also helping him with his business aspirations. Recently, he began his own landscaping company and is growing it partly through Toan Nyugen’s C’ville Central, a benefit corporation dedicated to vitalizing the local economy by supporting small, women, and minority-owned (SWaM) businesses in the Charlottesville region.

Proffitt is impressed with Santos’s ambition. “He’s just incredible. He wants so badly to improve. He wants to get his GED, go into a landscaping class, and become a certified landscaper. He goes from one step to another, without any fear,” she said.

One of Proffitt’s early concerns with tutoring was managing the difficult and contradictory creature that is the English language. “English is a real mess,” she said. “It has more idioms and expressions and breaking of rules than there are rules. It’s crazy.” However, she finds Understanding and Using English Grammar Workbook by Betty Schrampfer Azar and Stacy A. Hagen to be a great help. She also makes sure to set aside time in her sessions with Santos to work on his goals of improving his writing. Each session begins with them reading together, and follows with some writing time for him, and Proffitt draws on Santos’s writing to work on spelling and vocabulary.

“Once you start and get excited about helping somebody, you find the way,” she said. “There are so many resources here and Deanne and Maureen are wonderful. The person on the other side is just as nervous as you are, so there isn’t any judging going on. It’s all about just helping each other.”

Santos is pleased with his progress and makes sure to make his weekly meetings with Louise a priority, even though those are hours he could be working to support his family. “You’ve got to spend time learning English. Before I was taking classes, I just wanted to work and make money. It was hard for me [to make the time]. But now I’m happy to spend that time. Because the money, you can spend in one second, and learning English you’re going to keep it forever.”


Guest post by Literacy Volunteers

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