*Bee-Do* *Bee-Do* *Bee-Do* Controversial Topic Alert! *Bee-Do* Bee-Do* *Bee-Do (And yes, I did recently endure an all-minion movie marathon? Why do you ask?)

Two of my friends recently moved their youngest children into their college dorms. While this event, in any parent’s life, is a moment of pride, stress and a flurry of whirling emotions, for these two ladies the aftermath of sending their youngest child off to college left them feeling completely bereft. These two wonderful women were fortunate enough to have the disposition and means to be stay at home moms (SAHMs). When their children were younger, they were room mothers. They made treats, planned parties and assisted teachers at least three days a week. As their children grew and their interests changed, so did their Mom’s responsibilities. Soon these women were managing parent organizations, planning fundraisers, coordinating five action-packed schedules and acting as volunteer administrators for sports leagues. Every minute of their day was scheduled and that schedule was completely centered around their children.

As we sat chatting one afternoon they asked me what they were supposed to do now. Since taking their youngest to college, they’d both gone out and gotten part time jobs, but it just wasn’t filling the void. They needed something to fill the hours in the day, but they also wanted something that they walked away from with a sense of fulfillment. Since I work for a non profit, they asked if I would connect them with a great place in the community to volunteer.

“Why not volunteer at the Council? You’d both be great!”, I suggested. Both women balked at the idea. “How can I teach people English?,” they said, “I’m not fluent in any other languages.”

HELLO in eight different languages

I hear this A LOT, and I have to tell you… it really gets to me sometimes. Recently, Council staff had a phone interview with a member of the O’Neil Family Foundation for a potential grant opportunity. The interviewer asked about our transition from a solely TSOL certified teaching staff, to a primarily volunteer teaching group. The interviewer had a difficult time understanding that our program expanded under the volunteer model, and we saw a drastic increase in student success. The explanation for this is really simple. At the Council, we serve students who function at an 8th grade literacy level or below. We are one of the ONLY programs in Central Ohio that will work with these adults. We are also one of the only programs that focuses on functional literacy. Our goal is to help the people that have fallen through the cracks of ‘the system’ in Central Ohio, by teaching them practical subject matter to make a difference in their every day lives.

Since our students are typically at the lower end of the functional literacy scale, they are not eligible candidates for many of the ESOL and GED programs offered in Central Ohio. Our students are not ready to conjugate verbs, nor are they prepared to diagram sentences. The vast majority of the students who enter our program are not prepared for the rigorous and grammar intensive program a TSOL certified teacher would instruct.

1017096_10151572878223267_98693945_nDo you want to know what our students need help with? The alphabet. Learning to read books to their children (below an 8th grade level and on average, between kindergarten and 3rd grade). Understanding the way our currency system works– counting money. Reading a map and using the bus system. The basics of computers and the internet. Talking to doctors and reading prescription labels.

Most of our students are also in dire need of confidence. They need to establish a relationship with someone in our community that is willing to take the time to break things down to their level and show them that they can learn English and they can learn to navigate our society and our community. Our students need someone to invest in their education and their life and make them feel like they are worth it.

The volunteer teams at the Council do an amazing job of creating relationships with our students and providing the one to one and small group interaction that they need to succeed. Our volunteer teams might think they simply lead a classroom, but what they are really doing is creating a family and a sense of community that so many of our students desperately need. By instilling confidence in our students, teaching them with care and showing concern for their daily lives, our volunteer teams create a wonderful learning environment that allows our students to flourish! Eventually, these students reach a level where they are prepared to enter a classroom with a TSOL certified instructor and from there– the sky is the limit! Many of our students have progressed through the entire program and are currently at Columbus State or OSU working towards a degree.

Do you have a passion for helping others? Can you speak English? Do you have patience and willingness to work as a team? Do you really want to make an impact in our community?

If you answered yes to those questions, then you ARE qualified to volunteer at the Columbus Literacy Council.

Whitney Carreto works in the Executive Office at Columbus Literacy Council.

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