Lend an earand a hand to a neighbor

Published on Thu, Mar 7, 2002
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Lend an ear and a hand to a neighbor

According to a survey done by the U.S. Department of Education, one in five adults in Whatcom County is illiterate. And for them, illiteracy becomes a daily struggle for survival.

Fay Adams and Marge Henry are tutors who are dedicated to changing this statistic. “My father came from Russia and I saw how hard it was for him to get employment,” Henry said. “I wanted to help someone become more competent.”

Through the Whatcom Literacy Council (WLC), Adams and Henry have been working for over a year with a Russian family who fled religious persecution 11 years ago. Adams works with the wife and Henry with the husband.

“I started him with sports because he enjoyed reading them in the newspaper,” Henry said. “You have to find out what they are interested in and go from there. Now we are studying to get his citizenship.”

When Adams first began tutoring her, the wife didn’t know what a banana was, but now she is translating recipes and cooking meals regularly. According to Adams, a lot of times the differences are not so much linguistic, but cultural.

“We help them blend into the culture which is very important. When immigrants come over, generally they tend to stick together and rarely branch out which keeps them from learning the English language and culture,” Adams said.

“This in turn makes it very hard for them to get a job and function properly in a country that doesn’t speak their native tongue.”

Last year, the WLC served 78 basic literacy students. These are English speakers, who for some reason did not learn the skills they need for proficient reading, writing and spelling.

Volunteers taught English as a second language to 304 students last year through the WLC. These students are refugees or immigrants who have come to Whatcom County.

Students will see their progress in getting a job, understanding the government and becoming more familiar with the culture. “Instead of giving them the traditional scholastic tests, we measure real life stuff,” said Maureen Kane, executive director of the WLC.

Tutors must attend 12 hours of training and an orientation session.
Students who receive tutoring must apply to the WLC and will receive four hours of tutoring per week. Each student’s curriculum is created by professional staff and tutors to best suit their learning style, personal goals and learning challenges.

“On my birthday, they showed up with flowers, a Russian dinner and fresh strawberries,” Adams said. “They are real nice people.”

“It’s better to give than to receive,” Adams said. “I’ve learned every bit as much as she has. Tutoring is a very enjoyable part of my day and I always look forward to it.”

An open house for prospective volunteers is scheduled in Blaine for March 18 at the Blaine Senior Center from 7 to 8 p.m. “We have a real need for volunteers to work with people in the Blaine area,” Kane said.

The next volunteer orientation will be April 1 at 7 p.m. at Bellingham Technical College in Building G. For more information, call 647-3264 or visit www.what comliteracy.org..

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