According to the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute for Literacy, approximately 32 million Americans cannot read. It seems like a daunting figure until you learn about the work of organizations like Literacy Volunteers of Somerset County (LVSC) in New Jersey. These volunteers are positively impacting people’s lives every day.
International Literacy Day will be commemorated this year on Saturday, September 8. It’s an ideal time to understand and reflect on the goals of literacy in your community and beyond. The United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has announced that this year’s theme is “Literacy and Skills Development.” International Literacy Day allows people to acknowledge the needs of their neighbors and celebrate literacy education.
Aimee Lam LVSC Executive Director and Susan Engelstein, LVSC Program and Events Manager
Most people have a connection to someone who has had a challenge with literacy. If your forefathers were immigrants (and that includes nearly all Americans), you know people who don’t speak English. In everyday life, you may have encountered individuals who don’t possess the tools to read and write. If so, you can appreciate the need for literacy education and the value of volunteers working to address this social issue.
Founded in 1981, LVSC is a non-profit organization that offers three free programs including One-to-One and Small Group Tutoring, Conversation Groups, and U.S. Citizen Preparation Classes. Executive Director Aimee Lam and the Program and Events Manager Susan Engelstein are the guiding forces behind the success of LVSC.
Carolina Mancilla and Donna Sturm during a tutoring session at Wegmans in Bridgewater
We asked Aimee Lam why she finds her position so rewarding. “I have met so many kind volunteers who are dedicated to helping others, and so many hardworking students who are eager to master the English language,” said Lam. “It’s rewarding to see cross-cultural friendships take place between tutor and student, and to help newcomers feel welcomed in our community.”
In the fiscal year that ended in June of 2018, LVSC reported an impressive number of accomplishments that included the following: 260 adults received weekly tutoring from 200 volunteer tutors; 144 new students assessed for services; 150+ students participated in one of 14 Conversation Groups conducted; 40 students completed U.S. Citizenship Preparation Classes; tutors provided more than 4,500 hours of free tutoring; Conversation Group leaders conducted 700+ hours of discussion; U.S. Citizenship Preparation teachers provided 50 hours of classroom instruction; and, volunteers provided more than 575 hours of assistance with the organization’s office work, event planning and other needs.
Ann Beth Constad and Yuliana Ballestero make great progress during tutoring sessions at the Bridgewater Library
I have had the pleasure of working as a literacy volunteer for the past 20 years and most recently with LVSC. I am proud to be a member of a vibrant volunteer community of people from many walks of life who care deeply about literacy. Through the organization, I tutor students one-to-one and facilitate one of their many conversation groups that are held at public libraries throughout my county. The Conversation Group is a drop-in program where people of various backgrounds and abilities are able to relax and practice their conversation skills, everyday skills that many people take for granted. We work on communication in the workplace, when shopping, at doctor appointments or when having a school conference. Every improvement that an individual makes can be life changing for them and their families.
I’d like to share with Woman Around Town readers some of my student’s personal experiences and accomplishments.
Jorge, age 62, has been in this country for 20 years. He has been working several jobs to support his family and didn’t have time to learn English. He likes finding out about the local parks and recreation available for his grandchildren.
Karen McPhearson and Fernanda Benites take a break during a tutoring session
Jules, age 19, is new to this country. He is hoping to enroll in the local county college for a professional certificate program.
Inez, age 37, is a recent graduate from cosmetology school. She wants to work on conversation skills that would be useful in the workplace.
Alexa, age 50, enjoys having lunch in the break room at work. She likes being able to speak to her co-workers in English and understand what they are talking about.
Shelby, age 27, is volunteering at her children’s school. She wants to know more English so she can help in the school’s library.
David, age 36, would like to be able to schedule conferences with his children’s teachers and attend school meetings so he can learn more about their educations.
Devonte, age 31, is excited to have a library card and he takes out materials weekly for himself and his family.
Lea, age 41, is a homemaker. Everyone she comes in contact with daily speaks her native language. She likes to practice English and uses it to talk to her teenage daughters and their friends.
Improved literacy makes great things happen. It is known to be a catalyst for sustainable development, it enables increased participation in the employment market, allows for improvements in family health and nutrition, can reduce the problems associated with poverty, and allows for more personal opportunities. There’s nothing better than helping our friends and neighbors set goals and realize their potential to lead full, active, and productive lives.