Volunteer tutors can make a difference

Posted April 20, 2010, at 5:50 p.m.
This artwork by Donna Grethen relates to Earth Day (April 22).
Donna Grethen
This artwork by Donna Grethen relates to Earth Day (April 22).

What difference does a volunteer make in someone’s life?

Ask Danielle Rackliff of Orono.

This time last year, the 26-year-old was making no progress toward earning her GED. But six months ago, with the help of a volunteer tutor, she began improving her comprehension, expanding her vocabulary and becoming a more expressive writer.

“I am so ecstatic that I have chosen this path,” she reports. “Now, I’m willing to learn. I’m willing to try new things” though she admits “when I first started this, I was scared.”

She felt fortunate to be a stay-at-home mother to a preschool daughter, who just had turned 5, and a son, now in first grade. But she was not using snatches of spare time to improve herself. She had a dream of commencing postsecondary education with the ultimate goal of perhaps one day working in the dental field, but did not have a road map to get there.

Then, last October, she opened her door to Lynne Carlisle. For the past six months, Lynne has spent one to two hours a week in Danielle’s home working to improve the skills Danielle will need to succeed on the GED when she takes the exam this spring.

It is in recognition of Lynne and others like her that this column is written in observance of National Volunteer Appreciation Week, April 18-24.

Before the GED can be taken, five GED pretests must be completed in reading, social studies, science, grammar and writing, and math to demonstrate reading and comprehension. This pretest phase can be a bruising experience for adults whose academic skills are absent or have atrophied for years. If they do not invest the time necessary to improve their skills, they might score poorly and be stung by the emotional setback.

By contrast, Danielle has aced the pretests because of the time she has invested with Lynne. Danielle’s pretest results have been stellar.

Lynne has scored well, too. “I’ve been thrilled,” she says. “For me, this has been very rewarding.”

Lynne delivers custom lessons targeted to meet Danielle’s specific learning level, pace and topic of interest. Danielle’s progress receives well-deserved praise which, in turn, boosts her confidence and fuels her desire to learn more.

Thanks to Lynne’s donated time, the tutoring is free, and is a service coordinated by Literacy Volunteers of Bangor.

LV-Bangor has been matching people such as Lynne and Danielle for more than 40 years in Maine, providing training to individuals interested in becoming tutors, and working closely with local adult education programs and other organizations to promote adult literacy.

For the year ending June 2009, the most recent year for which data are available, LV-Bangor served a otal of 237 adults — 118 Basic Literacy and 119 English Language Learners.

Though Lynne is a retired Hampden Academy consumer science teacher, any adult can receive training to become an LV-Bangor tutor. The only prerequisite is a desire to help and make a difference.

Consistently, there is a waiting list for tutors.

The next Basic Learner tutor training session is scheduled for the fall. The next session to train English tutors starts at 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 5. Call 947-8451 for more information or to register.

Emily Adams Cameron of Glenburn is a paralegal and contributor to Literacy Matters, the newsletter of Literacy Volunteers of Bangor.

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