Lifestyle » Vol. 62

Giving the gift of words

Harvey Fenigsohn

Imagine coming to a new country, leaving all that is familiar and comforting: your culture, your friends, your family and your roots. You find yourself baffled by a strange and difficult language — one you know you must master to fulfill your dream of becoming gainfully employed with economic security for you and your family in your adopted homeland. This is the dilemma of the growing number of immigrants who have come to Worcester in search of a better life.

Many of us descend from immigrants who came to these shores knowing very little English. How can we not empathize with today’s new arrivals? After all, these newcomers must overcome the same language barriers that stood in the way of our own forebears when they arrived so full of the same hope and determination. Too often, immigrants suffered prejudice and discrimination inflicted by those who came before them. But in the past, many newcomers also experienced the kindness of strangers. Today, the newly arrived continue to benefit from America’s tradition of compassionate aid.

You, too, could become part of this great benevolent tradition of service. If you have as little as two hours a week to volunteer as a tutor, you can have the satisfaction of helping someone fulfill his or her dreams. You can join Literacy Volunteers and be part of its mission to empower adults to achieve their goals of a better life by mastering the English language.

The students are not only immigrants and refugees. Unfortunately, there are many native-born Americans whose literacy skills are below a sixth-grade level. In Worcester County, nearly 20 percent (82,026 people) of residents are without a high school diploma. Often secretly illiterate because of their embarrassment, some full-fledged citizens, for whatever reasons, never learned basic English language skills. They struggle to decipher road signs and to read their mail and their newspapers. They cannot read to their children, nor can they fill out job applications or read warning labels on medications. All their adult lives, they have attempted to live without a skill the rest of us take for granted. Finally admitting their need for help, these native-born Americans, as well as the core adult student population of immigrants, come to us for help. What you, as a literacy volunteer, can offer will change their lives immeasurably.

Located at the Worcester Public Library, Literacy Volunteers of Greater Worcester is one of 13 independent nonprofit affiliates throughout the state dedicated to promoting literacy through volunteer tutoring. It offer sconfidential, student-centered, one-to-one instruction at no cost to the learner. The goal is to promote the comprehension, speaking, reading and writing of English for those adults who most need this help.

The only requirement to be eligible to tutor an adult student is that you have a high school diploma, are at least 18 years old and are willing to give freely of your time. If you decide to become a volunteer, prior to being certified and matched up with a student, Literacy Volunteers conducts an orientation and six consecutive weekly training sessions to prepare you. Toward the end of the training, you are provided with student information to arrange your first meeting with your new student. You meet at the Worcester Public Library, or the Literacy Volunteers facility, or at a local coffee shop – any one of these is an excellent place for your tutoring session.

After a 9- to 12-month commitment, student and tutor may continue working together, but if your student has achieved his or her goals, or moves, you can decide to be matched with another student. The initial training provides thorough preparation for the tutors, though there is no set curriculum. Instead, student and tutor work together to reach the student’s individual goals. In the LV office at the library, there are helpful literacy experts, as well as a wealth of books and materials, including computers with learning programs for volunteers and their students.

At the moment, there are not enough tutors in Massachusetts to accommodate the many who seek assistance. Consider joining Literacy Volunteers. You will learn that there is no greater satisfaction than giving the gift of language!

Contact Literacy Volunteers at 508-754-8056 or Visit the website at to download an application.

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