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“But if I talk too fast and you can’t understand me, please ask me… it’s your class!” Charlie Cunningham, volunteer ESOL and Citizenship teacher with Catholic Charities’ Hogar Immigrant Services shares his story of giving back through teaching.

Hogar volunteer photo

After 35 years with the CIA, Cunningham thought the beginning of his retirement would involve gardening and landscaping and sports on TV. It wasn’t long before he desired something else. Something that added value, something fulfilling.

He talked to a friend about Catholic Charities, and around the same time, he saw a flyer in St. Andrew’s parish bulletin advertising the need for volunteers to teach English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) with Catholic Charities.

“I read the flyer and it said no experience was necessary and you don’t have to be bilingual to volunteer,” Cunningham said laughing. “I thought, this is the job for me! As a kid, I always wanted to be a teacher, so this would let me get back to my youth.”

Three years later, Cunningham is still teaching English and Citizenship to legal immigrants seeking help with Catholic Charities. (He has even picked up a little bit of Spanish along the way!)

“I love watching the expressions on my students’ faces when they pronounce a word correctly or learn a new word they didn’t know before.”

He teaches two nights a week at Catholic Charities’ Hogar office in Manassas. Hogar offers ESOL, Citizenship classes and personal empowerment seminars on topics such as community offerings in Prince William County, understanding U.S. banking or eating healthy on a budget. Hogar also has lawyers and legal staff helping with immigration cases.

Cunningham believes in the mission of Hogar and sees the need firsthand. He says that many of the students work during the day and then come to Hogar classes four nights a week, determined to make the most of their classes.

“They come in very tired, but they are happy and smiling. It puts me to shame, since all I’ve done is sit through rush hour traffic. They are so upbeat!”

Beyond teaching English, Cunningham offers life skills and advice to help his students. He brings in speakers and students who have previously passed the exams.

“I get in as much coaching as I can. I’ll do whatever is necessary to help my students get one step up the ladder.”


Do you want to volunteer with Catholic Charities, or specifically with Hogar Immigrant Services? Remember, there are no language requirements! Please visit our website or email Sally O’Dwyer, Director of Volunteers, at

Your financial support subsidizes costs of these classes and legal assistance. Click here to make a donation.

Lastly, please pray for us and those whom we serve!