Literacy Volunteers give, receive priceless rewards from pupils
“We enable them to do more with themselves.”
That’s what Kimberly Greer, the director of Literacy Volunteers of Kent County, said her program does for its students.
The Literacy Volunteers of Kent County (LVKC) offers free tutoring to adults wishing to improve their English reading, writing and comprehension. The LVKC offers one-on-one specialized tutoring that caters to the student’s needs, goals and schedule.
The organization was started at the Coventry Library in 1980 by a group of Coventry residents headed up by Virginia Carter. Today, LVKC has 55 students and 45 volunteer tutors.
Warwick’s Bernardine DiOrio is one of those tutors, and has been teaching adults with LVKC since 2009.
All volunteers must undergo approximately 18 hours of training. After learning the ropes from fellow tutors, the new volunteers are gradually introduced to students and learn how to make customized lesson plans for the new pupils.
“It’s very thorough,” said DiOrio.
Greer said tutors teach things like basic literacy or English as a second language. They help their students achieve various goals such as attaining citizenship, becoming more participative at home or with their children, or getting a better job.
DiOrio’s first student was Maria, a mother of three who was born in the U.S. but didn’t do well in school. Her first language was Spanish, and she struggled with English curriculum in the classroom. She dropped out of high school at age 16, and when she sought out the help of the Literacy Volunteers, she was still reading and writing at an elementary level.
That was two years ago. Now Maria has passed the GED test and has a full-time job. She no longer meets with DiOrio.
Greer said most of the LVKC students fit into two groups: those that have a specific goal that takes a year or less, and those that have broad-based goals who stay with LVKC for many years.
Currently, DiOrio is tutoring Freddy, an immigrant who moved to the U.S. at age 18. Now with a wife, family and a business, Freddy is seeking to improve his English linguistic skills.
Freddie and DiOrio meet two hours a week. In addition to their one-on-one time, DiOrio gives Freddy homework assignments.
She said he is making strides and working hard.
DiOrio said one of the biggest challenges in tutoring is finding time within her students’ schedules.
“Getting across how important it is and insisting on the importance of education…is one of the challenges,” she said.
DiOrio, who is retired, took an interest in volunteering with the LVKC because of her background in education. She had been volunteering with other kinds of programs, but eventually was drawn to tutoring.
DiOrio’s educational background was in elementary education and administration, but she said teaching adults is very different from teaching children.
“When you’re teaching adults you have to approach it differently,” she said. “Adult students aren’t really interested in fiction. They want to know history and science, that’s one of the major differences.”
Because of this, the reading assignments she gives to her adult pupils often include news clippings and history text.
“They’re learning to read and understand English but also learning life lessons.”
DiOrio said the resources at Coventry Library, where the program is based, are exceptional. In addition to providing resources, the library also provides partial funding to LVKC. The remainder of their funding comes from Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grants and donations from individuals and businesses. These funds help to support the LVKC’s part-time office assistant and Greer, a half-time program director.
Although the tutors are not compensated monetarily, DiOrio said her position is rewarding in many ways.
“When Maria told me she had passed her GED it was very rewarding,” said DiOrio.
She also said the gratitude her students express, in whatever manner, is fulfilling.
“In giving, you receive. That feeling makes it worthwhile.”
DiOrio urges others who may be considering volunteering to do so.
“If they have the desire to do it, that’s the most important step,” she said. “The Literacy Volunteers of Kent County is a wonderful program, and the volunteers will be prepared. They give you a toolbox of goods things they should have with them – very, very helpful resources. It’s a wonderful thing for volunteers.”
To volunteer, or to study with LVKC, contact Kimberly Greer at 822-9103. Visit www.coventrylibrary.org/lvkcMain.html for more information.