By: Moire Latamore
After nearly 35 years as a federal employee, I was retiring. I had made plans, but things were not going as anticipated. I had enjoyed tutoring low literacy adults and thought that I might be able to find some local volunteer work.
I saw a posting for volunteer teachers for ESOL and Citizenship classes with Catholic Charities’ Hogar Immigrant Services in Manassas.
I didn’t know anything about teaching in a classroom setting. I didn’t know anything about teaching to limited English speakers. I didn’t know whether I would meet Hogar’s standards as a volunteer teacher.
My fears were baseless! The Hogar staff responded immediately and provided teaching tools and training. I was welcomed and appreciated for any efforts that I would make to help Hogar fulfill its mission to help immigrants achieve self-sufficiency and participate fully in the greater community. With Hogar’s trainings and materials, I learned how to teach English to speakers of other languages. I also learned about students’ customs, cultures and foods (my favorite).
Life as a Volunteer Teacher
When I walked into my first class, I saw a sea of expectant faces looking to me for hope and guidance. I was offering them something that they needed: effective communication in their new country. The students were so eager. And at the end of class, they were so very grateful for the 90 minutes that I had spent writing on the board, expanding vocabulary and making faces to stress pronunciation. Every one of the students saw me as a blessing in their lives. And in no time at all, I learned that they were a blessing in mine.
I am constantly challenged by my classes. I have to think on my feet to answer questions about English that had never occurred to me. I have to be sure to engage and encourage while still managing the class. (Not always as easy as it sounds!) Most importantly, I have to let my students know that I care, but I must be sure not to get too attached.
Occasionally, I will see a former student outside of class. One of my favorite encounters occurred as I was going through security at the airport. As I was directed through the line, I thought I recognized the TSA officer so I stopped to ask his name. At first, he was defensive. “Why do you need my name?” Then he looked at me, and his face broke into an ear-to-ear grin. “Teacher!” He hugged and thanked me right there in the security line. At last, I was an airport VIP. (Yes, I still had to take off my shoes.)
Three Years Later
I’ve now been teaching at Hogar for almost three years, and I look forward to every semester. I have watched students whom I taught as beginners move up and learn English well enough to become U.S. citizens and start their own businesses. They remember my jokes, and they remember my mistakes. I can look at their smiling faces and see how far they have come and take pride that I was able to make a small difference in their lives.
Today, Hogar’s staff is just as welcoming and supportive as they were on my first day. They have a positive spin on any situation that arises and a cheerful outlook. They care about the students and volunteers and work to create an atmosphere where everyone can thrive and grow.
I didn’t know what my life would be like when I retired. I had no idea that such a rewarding experience in a new field was out there for me. My experience with Hogar has been life-changing in the best ways possible.
How do you fit into Moire’s story? Are you passionate about welcoming the stranger? Or can you help us to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless or give clothes to the naked? Do you have a few hours a week or maybe just an hour a month? We need you! Catholic Charities depends on the generosity of volunteers to bring vibrancy (like Moire!) to our programs and those whom we serve. Please visit our volunteer page or contact Sally O’Dwyer, Director of Volunteers, at SOdwyer@ccda.net or (703) 841-3838.