Volunteers Help ESL Students Graduate


Volunteers really do make a difference.  We all know the value of volunteerism in the Sonoma Valley, but in the La Luz Center ESL Program classes (that take place both on-site and off-site at El Verano School) it is clear that the extraordinary success of the program has been due to a wonderful team of volunteer tutors.  According to Maricarmen Reyes-Larios, Coordinator of Educational Programs at La Luz Center, "without the volunteers, we would not be able to accomplish so much in the classrooms.  Volunteers not only tutor students but also motivate and encourage”.  Consequently, over sixty students celebrated their completion of Spring Semester 2013 on Sunday June 9th at La Luz Center from 6pm to 8pm. La Luz Center is once again grateful to the Todd Trust (part of the Sonoma Valley Fund and the Community Foundation of Sonoma County) and other private family foundation donors who have graciously funded the ESL program for the past year.  Just recently the Todd Trust approved an additional $92,000 to continue the ESL programs for the next year. 

Because the classes are multilevel, the addition of volunteer tutors is critical and allows the classes to divide into groups of students at various stages of English proficiency.  Each volunteer is trained to lead and tutor a small group enabling students to advance faster. There are even volunteer tutors working with a group of pre-literate learners, those who have no reading or writing skills even in their own language. Kate Willmers, the enthusiastic teacher of the morning session at La Luz Center site, remarked that this year was “the best year yet for volunteers. They are a passionate, dedicated group."  Although some volunteers have teaching experience in ESL programs or as former teachers, many do not have any experience and it is not at all required.  She also said that the ESL classes sustained more students this year than in the past and believes it was because of the quality and dedication of volunteers.

Lynn Myers a volunteer tutor in Willmer’s class said, “the students are really inspiring, they work so hard and rarely miss a class."  She takes pleasure, not only with the students, but also in watching their children grow at Little English Learners Childcare program for morning ESL Class and where children learn English while the parents attend class.   One of the students at this group, Juanita Padilla, is learning English, while her son Andres Hernandez is in an adjacent classroom learning some English as well.  According to Juanita, "Andres loves La Luz Center and wakes up asking if he is going to his class today."

 La Luz Center plans not only to formalize the ESL Volunteer training but also the new Volunteer Coordinator, Alyson Therres is working on a project to create a volunteer handbook to aid the volunteers. According to Alyson “our ESL volunteers are a crucial part of our volunteer program.  This dedicated group of volunteers comes out every week to help their community learn English.  Every one of them has a passion to give back and they do this out of the kindness of their hearts”, statement which Executive Director Juan Hernandez III agrees by stating "We are so proud of our volunteers.  La Luz Center attracts dedicated and focused volunteers.  Without them we would not be able to have the impact we have".

La Luz Center has over 15 ESL volunteers this year of all ages.  The range of volunteers includes men and women, young and old, English speakers or English as a second language learners themselves. Several volunteers were college and high school interns who not only received credit but also had invaluable experience in a working environment; something that could be used on their resumes for future jobs.  Maricarmen feels “having a multigenerational group of volunteers working together is important to link the generations and cultures”.  Jennie Eubank one of the evening volunteers states that she “started volunteering at ESL classes because I wanted to get to know the community I was student teaching in better.  What I did not know was that I would get to know my own first language, English, better as well as improving my ability to teach it!  As a second language learner myself, I understand the dedication, practice and persistence needed to become proficient.” 

 The next session for the summer will occur from mid-June to late July.  Willmers mentioned that she would enrich the morning program for the summer session by incorporating outside speakers to talk about jobs and the workplace, teaching the students about skills required for various types of jobs while demonstrating the importance of learning English. There will be one morning class held on Tuesdays and Thursdays in Booker Hall at La Luz Center for the beginning to high-intermediate levels. Child care is available for participating parents at low monthly cost of $5 per child. One evening class will be offered at La Luz Center this summer on Friday evenings.  The night classes will resume at El Verano School in the Fall.

 Although the majority of the students are Latinos, the classes are open to everyone who would like to learn English as a second language. This last year they had students from South Korea, China, Brazil, Poland and Nepal.   “Learning English is crucial even more with the possibility of immigration reform”  Kara Reyes, Program Director at La Luz Center says.  “Learning English is essential to successful integration and will likely be a key component of reform.  Here at La Luz Center we promote bilingualism.  Learning English does not mean you forget your culture or your own language.  You can keep your own culture and still be American.”

For information on the classes, please contact the La Luz Center (707 938-5131).  Maricarmen Reyes maricarmen@laluzcenter.org if you are interested in enrolling the ESL classes.  To volunteer for ESL or La Luz Center , please contact Alyson Therres, alyson@laluzcenter.org .

La Luz is a non-profit organization mission is to “empowering our community through education, leadership and self-advocacy” and is dedicated to assisting our Sonoma Valley neighbors, who contribute to the economic, cultural and social wellbeing of our community. La Luz Center provides amongst other social services provides English language training, teaches computer literacy skills, distributes food, hosts medical services, offers crisis counseling, and supports events that celebrate the richness of our multicultural community.

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Around 19 TESL graduate understudies volunteer in this program, and the individuals who are not instructing for the night likewise give free youngster care to the understudies in the program. In spite of the fact that the program is moderately new, it is rapidly extending. Around 30 understudies go to the class (an impressive increment in enlistment from last semester), with new understudies joining as the semester advances. Not exclusively are the program's individuals working together with the UM people group engagement associations, however they additionally would like to grow their administrations to the bigger group soon.

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