Students' Success Stories 2018-19
We all enjoy success stories. They are positive messages about overcoming obstacles, working hard for the reward, and finding satisfaction in completing challenges. Read about the students who have obtained citizenship, those who escaped war torn countries and now have assimilated into American society and absorbed our culture, and those who finally read a bedtime story to a young child or grandchild. That last achievement has a special significance for a Basic Literacy student after a lifetime of frustration and low self-esteem. Here at Literacy Volunteers of America we like to celebrate all those positive events in our students’ lives. Sometimes we celebrate with hugs and treats, but most often, we share these achievements with others through this page on our website. That way all of our LVA community can share in the celebration of their success!
Bennchiwo came to the United States a little over a year ago. He left his native country of Haiti to learn English and get a better education. And, that he has done.
The shy, reticent young man who entered Literacy Volunteers of America Essex & Passaic Counties’ tutoring program almost one year to date, is now gainfully employed and in his spare time is writing songs.
Ben admits that when he first moved to New Jersey, he could barely say, “My name is Ben. Now, he says, “I feel comfortable carrying on a conversation. I study every day. I tried taking classes with another organization for a few months, but came back to LVA. I feel more comfortable here because of the tutors and you guys in the office.”
Ben works hard with his tutors with whom he practices conversation, writing, reading, and comprehension skills. “Each time I come, I learn new words,” Ben said.
When he is not studying or working, Ben enjoys watching sci-fi and action movies. His favorites include The Avengers, Mission Impossible, and Ghost Rider. By watching American television and movies, he has increased his word power.
Ben uses his growing English vocabulary in some of the rap songs he enjoys writing. When asked about his affinity for rap, Ben said, “I am attracted to rap in general because of the story the songwriter is telling.”
Ben became interested in music at 16 and discovered rap on Trip tv, a Haitian music channel. “I fell in love with rap when I first heard T-Pain, an American rapper and record producer,” Ben said. “I loved the song and the beat even though I could not understand one word of the song.”
Now, Ben is building his own in-home studio. He recently purchased a microphone, amplifier, equalizer, and keyboard. “I started this in Haiti,” he said. “I built one but couldn’t bring it here so I gave it to my friend. I am starting all over again.”
Ben sometimes thinks about writing songs about the misery in Haiti. “But, I don’t write it,” he said. “Too many people write about that subject.” Even though Ben has seen misery and had to say goodbye to many friends back in Haiti, he still remains positive. “I want to become a music producer so I can inspire and produce other musicians. I like to sing, too. I want to keep growing,” Ben said.
Estafani is well on the road to follow her dreams. A native of the Dominican Republic, her first goal when she arrived in the United States was to learn English. She can check that off of her “to do” list.
Estafani moved to New Jersey in January of 2018. But, it wasn’t until October of that same year that she found Literacy Volunteers of America. “I studied English in Santo Domingo. I learned, but I didn’t practice,” she said. “It is important to practice. My English was very bad when I came here. When I had to speak with someone, they could not understand me. I was ashamed.”
Today, Estafani studies English with two tutors and is a welcome addition to LVA’s student roster. Her love for language is infectious. And practice, well, that is not a problem. She meets with one of her tutors every Friday and is a valuable contribution to the group of 5 women and one young man. His first meeting with the ladies was very recent and Estafani immediately put him at ease. She brought him into the conversation right away. Estafani said, “With Mary, I am learning a lot of grammar. My vocabulary is very extensive. Mary teaches me a lot of words.” It is not unusual to see Estafani, long after the class has ended, laughing and chatting with the other students.
Estafani said, “My English is getting better and better. The people here are so nice. The tutors are so kind to us. I am very happy here. I am learning how the American people really speak.”
One of Estafani’s other goals is to go back to college and become a teacher. That is far from the career in accounting she left upon relocating to the United States. With Estafani’s dedication to learning, she will someday be able to check that off her list as well. “My other classmates and I all want to get good jobs,” Estafani said. Jennifer, Estafani’s other tutor, is helping her students sharpen their resume writing skills. “Jennifer is getting us ready for interviews,” Estafani said. “She gives us tips on writing resumes in the United States which is a very different style from my country.”
“My dream is to have children and go to college. I want to do something with kids. First, I want to learn English, second, go to college, and third, have children. I love kids and they love me too, so it is a win-win,” Estafani said.
Her dream is close to becoming a reality. “I feel more comfortable speaking and I can understand everything. Before coming to LVA, I could understand some of what people say, but now I can understand 99%.” And, now she can focus on growing her family.
Luciana has a bachelor’s degree in architecture that she earned in her native Brazil and a master’s in urban planning that she earned when she went to help her family in Portugal. But in the United States she is coming to terms that before she continues her career, she must master English.
And, she is on her way. “I had some introduction to English grammar while living in Portugal and a little in Brazil,” Luciana said. Her parents, although they had little formal education, made sure Luciana and her siblings had the opportunity to attend college. “My mom did everything for us so we could keep studying,” Luciana said.
Luciana is now working in her husband’s construction business where she helps out when their two young daughters are in school. Actually, it is quite a turn of events, as Luciana met a male client while she was running her own firm in Portugal who later became her husband. He wanted to build a house for his mom and Luciana oversaw the two-year construction project.
Luciana’s current project is to improve her English. She found Literacy Volunteers of America, Essex & Passaic Counties in September of 2018. Luciana started off meeting with two tutors for 16 hours per month, and in this short time, has made vast improvement. “I have more confidence to speak and I can understand people much easier,” Luciana said. “I had a meeting with one of my daughter’s teachers because I had some concerns and was able to remedy the situation.”
Luciana is also enjoying reading as well. “First I started reading little books,” she said. Now she is currently reading a 2012 New York Times bestselling novel “Where We Belong,” by Emily Giffin.
Luciana’s two tutors are pleased with her rapid progress. “She always comes to class prepared and goes the second mile. I asked her to read the next chapter of a book we were working on and, instead, she finished the entire book. We practice reading aloud in class and Luciana always asks to be corrected if she makes a mistake,” Mary Kao said.
Her other tutor, Mary O’Connor, works on composition and is encouraging Luciana to submit some pieces in next year’s New Jersey Association for Lifelong Learning Adult Learner Writing Contest. Mary said, “Luciana consistently meets each challenge with great enthusiasm. She has not only grown individually in her English skills but has been an integral part of bringing together our class of five women from four different continents.
Since coming to the United States, Luciana has also obtained her United States citizenship. With her growing command of the English language, citizenship, and her desire to take on new challenges, she will be running her own business soon.
The internet connects people in a variety of ways and LVA student Perseveranda can attest to that first hand with the charming story of a lovestruck suitor who is now her husband and father to their son.
Perseveranda met Norberto online, she was living in Peru and he, originally from Puerto Rico, was living in New Jersey. They got to know each other some before they actually met. Norberto flew nearly 8 hours to meet her in person the first time and was besotted. “He proposed to me the first day he saw me,” she said remembering that day more than ten years ago.
“I was a little insecure, I didn’t know enough about him,” she said. “I said I need to know him a little bit more and he said ok, no problem.” Norberto visited Peru many times. “Finally, I said yes,” she admits laughing shyly. Iquitos is a port city on the Amazon River in Peru where she grew up the eighth of eleven children.
When she arrived as a new bride in New Jersey she was clear about her goals. “I told my husband I want to learn English, the country is the language and I want to learn,” Perseveranda said. She wished she knew English when she arrived with great expectations of new opportunities, but Perseveranda has no regrets.
“Learning English has been my luck charm, it has brought me many opportunities here,” she said. Perseveranda found LVA after a visit to the Belleville Public Library to ask about learning English in 2013. “They sent me here,” she said. Her tutors are Yolanda McBride and Janet Piorko.
After studying, she earned her driver’s license after taking the test in English. Perserveranda got a job as a middle school lunch aid at a school in Jersey City and became a citizen in 2016. “And last summer I brought my parents here for the summer and I did all the visa work myself in English,” she said with great pride. She now works as a classroom monitor in the Belleville schools.
She and Norberto like to read fiction with their son Jeremy, who is 9-years-old.
Perseveranda loves sports and especially enjoys watching professional soccer with her family, she cheers loudly for Peruvian striker Paulo Guerro. While she enjoys pizza and hamburgers here, Perseveranda really misses Peruvian food because she said her husband prefers Puerto Rican food. In particular, she likes a specific fish from the Amazon River, Paiche can reach 400 pounds that she said is delicious grilled or in ceviche. It’s massive, look up a picture of it online.
While she misses some things from her homeland, Perseveranda is clear about her goals and wants to let others thinking of coming here to know the importance of language. “I would tell them to learn English first before coming here,” she said. “That would be my advice to future arrivers.”
She still has stars in her eyes for Norberto.
“I moved here for love,” she said. “Thank you to my husband because he supported me in learning English.”
LVA student, Giovana, came to the United States from Uruguay, knowing little to no English in August, 2018. In just 10 months, she will be graduating from our program.
How do you get from a beginning ESL student to an advanced Basic Literacy student in such a short time? Practice. Practice. Practice.
World-renowned cellist Yo Yo Ma immigrated to the United States when he was 7 years old, and, with lots of practice, landed on the stages of Carnegie Hall and other venerable concert halls. 34-year-old Giovana has that same work ethic. She takes English classes for 28 hours a week. And, in her “spare time,” she practices English.
When asked about her passion for learning, Giovana said, “English is important for me because I need to communicate with other people. It is good for me to practice English because I can understand people better.”
In addition to her formal English classes, Giovana is taking CPR through the Red Cross. Again, that class is taught in English. “It is a good course. I think everyone should take it,” she said. It is good information. When someone is eating and choking, it is good to know the proper way to help.”
And help, she does. Giovana volunteers in our office two hours a week. Unfortunately for LVA, she had to cut back from volunteering four hours per week due to her Monday-Thursday morning English classes at New Community Corporation and weekend classes at ASA College in New York City.
In the LVA office, Giovana embraces the opportunity to make phone calls, greet students and tutors, and also organize endless amounts of paperwork. She is always ready to help out where the need is greatest at any given time. “I like to help everyone,” Giovana said. “I learn from everyone how to improve my English. They help me to use the correct words in speaking and writing.”
Volunteering gives Giovana a chance to use her abundance of administrative skills she learned when working in the post office in Solymar, a beach town in Uruguay, before she moved into the financial world where she also worked her way through college in Montevideo, Uruguay’s capital city and largest city.
Giovana uses those same organizational skills in her studies. “I read and mark with a pencil the words I don’t understand. I translate them and then return to the book,” Giovana said. “I read, practice, and memorize new words. I put the words into an Excel spreadsheet and memorize them.”
Her busy schedule leaves no time for social activities many young women like to pursue. An escape from the books is riding on public transportation to and from classes, putting in her earphones and watching music videos by Radiohead, Christina Aguilera, and Liam Payne. “I listen to music videos with English subtitles,” Giovana said. “I choose songs with slow and good pronunciation.”
Giovana’s interaction with friends is one of her greatest joys. After class in Manhattan, she has lunch with other students from China, Russia, Ecuador, and Poland. She said, “Our tastes in food are different, but we all have learning English in common.”
Giovana is a young star on the rise whose hard work and dedication are to be admired.
Ana learned the art of being resourceful at an early age. Now, she is honing this skill to learn English.
“One day I asked someone where my husband and I could study English. We came into the office at the Bloomfield Library and met Jorge. He directed us to the grammar program at Berkeley College. It was a very good experience over there. Now we are at the library in Passaic and are learning reading, writing, and conversation,” Ana said. They spend more than six hours a week in class.
Ana and her husband are retired teachers, and together, they share many adventures. Whether they are traveling across country or across town, you will seldom see one without the other. Both enjoy living and learning.
But, life has not always been easy for Ana. Being the oldest child in a family of 6 siblings, Ana stopped her formal education in San Pedro Sula, the second largest city in Honduras, due to her father’s job being relocated to a small town with no schools.
Ana said, “ After the move from the city, I stayed with my mom at home to learn about the woman’s role. The women learn to cook, sew, and prepare themselves for all areas of what they do in the house. You do everything to prepare to be a wonderful wife.”
It was at home that Ana learned to be resourceful. Ana’s family owed a horse, cows, pigs, and chickens. “We used the horse to carry water from the fuente de agua (water source). We also rode the horse to pick up food for the other animals and things that were too heavy to carry. Then, we would lead the horse and walk back home. We walked everywhere,” Ana said.
“It is a very pretty country,” she added. The mountains, the rivers, they are beautiful. We feel so sad because my country is very dangerous right now.”
Ana’s decision to leave Honduras proved to be another good choice. She moved to New York City at age 24 and remembers, “At the time, people thought the United States life was like the gold rush. There was a lot of work. You could have a good life. Many people say I came to this country and had opportunity. That is not true. I had to go out and make it happen,” Ana said.
LVA has been a key part of Ana’s good life. It is not only an educational, but social opportunity for Ana. “Studying at LVA give me more practice in English which is good for me. It has help my communication. My teacher says I speak English better than he. I feel more confident because when we retired we needed something challenging to keep our minds working. To go over there to take the class, to enjoy my husband, to talk to my teacher, they make me come alive.”
Like many a doting mother, Betty’s priorities have always been the well being of her family. And, like many an immigrant mom, she found that spending time with her children and working to help her husband support them, left little time to learn English. But, Betty never stopped trying.
Eventually she found herself at the Literacy Volunteers of America Essex & Passaic Counties office in 2016 and today has a job in the school system that allows her to both help support her family and spend time with her children after school.
But, finding LVA was not a straight path. Betty attempted to learn English at a school in Newark. That did not last long, as she stopped classes to stay home with her first child. “I stopped classes because I was pregnant,” she said. I wanted to be home with my baby.”
Betty, a Peruvian native, met Jorge Chavez, LVA’s Data Processing Coordinator since 2014, at a social event in 2004 when she first came to the United States. Both being from Lima, they had more than language in common. Jorge was friends with Betty’s husband.
Fast forward to 2016 when Betty walked into the LVA office at the Bloomfield Library. Who was the first person to greet her? Jorge Chavez. He asked, “How did you get here?” “My husband brought me. I felt frustrated because I couldn’t do the things I used to do. I know I had a lot of knowledge and skills I could use in Peru and could not do here because I could not speak English. I came to LVA to learn more English, especially to improve my speaking,” she said.
And, that she did. After two years of study with her tutors and also taking classes at Berkeley College, one of LVA’s satellite programs, Betty will soon be testing out of the LVA program.
This mother of two young ladies has worked hard. She practiced English when her children were asleep. Now that their daughters are school age, they practice English with Betty.
Betty’s dedication to her children and improving her English did not stop there. Instead of resuming her 10-year career as a tax accountant prior to coming to the United States, this business major made a job change in order to work in the school system and keep the same schedule as her children. Instead of crunching numbers, she was taking attendance in a classroom. Betty got a job as substitute teacher.
When Betty was asked about her first day as a teacher, she quickly replied, “Don’t remind me. It was difficult.” As her English continued to improve, so did her comfort level.
To prepare for her days in the classroom as a sub, Betty used the same laser focused approach and techniques she employed as an English language learner. “Every day when I come home to my house, I read the teacher’s lesson plans in advance. For example, if she is going to teach about trees, I read all of the information I can about trees.”
So, while Betty has settled into her role as a substitute teacher, she has not ruled out an eventual return to her career in accounting. “In Peru, I worked for many companies like Domino’s Pizza and others, in their accounting department. I also supervised different departments.”
However, at this time, Betty’s choice is to earn less pay and spend more time with her family. “Maybe in the future I will work again as an accountant. My daughters are little. They need me now,” Betty said.
Jenny moved from Naranjal, Ecuador to Madrid, Spain when she was 14 years old. After 10 years of thrilling adventures in Spain’s central capital, Jenny found her heart’s desire was back in Ecuador. She married “the boy next door.”
Jenny confesses to not liking her next- door neighbor when she was 10. Then, she broke into a smile and said, “I found him again and I can’t tell you what happened.”
Her husband-to-be, now living in Newark, used social media to track Jenny down while she was living the big city lifestyle in Madrid. After only four months of on-line courtship, Jenny boarded a plane to Newark. “I felt happy and a little nervous,” Jenny remembered. But, this young woman was no fool. “It was a difficult decision,” she said. “Just in case things didn’t work out, I bought a round trip ticket.”
Fortunately, things did work out for both of them and their growing family. Jenny and her husband have a 7 ½ year old son in second grade and a 3 ½ year old daughter who attends pre-kindergarten while Jenny works two days a week at her part time job.
Actually, it was their two children who were the impetus for Jenny to become a Literacy Volunteers of America student. “I wanted to learn English to be able to speak with my children’s teachers.” Jenny has been with LVA for almost 3 years and works 16 hours a month with the same tutor with whom she was matched when Jenny first enrolled.
When she is not studying, working, or driving her children to their various activities, Jenny enjoys cooking. The daughter of a fisherman and a stay at home mom, Jenny likes to bring many of her mother’s seafood recipes to her own kitchen table. Family favorites are shrimp salad, seafood soup, and calamari. “I cook everything the same as in my country,” Jenny said.
Having been raised on her father’s catches of the day that included catfish, crab, and shrimp, Jenny knows the importance and taste of good food. “Chicken in the United States is not as good,” she said. “Sometimes my mom would buy our chicken from the market, but I liked it better when we had time to go to the farm. Chicken in my country is more organic,” Jenny said.
“In New Jersey,” she said, “I shop in the supermarket and try to buy all fresh food. I found a lot of products from Ecuador. It tastes the same, but the costs are higher.” Jenny’s favorite food in the United States is hamburger. Of course, her children look forward to a break from healthy meals and beg for an occasional trip to Burger King.
Jenny says she owes her self-confidence in being able to ask questions in the grocery story to ordering off the menu at Burger King to LVA.
“Being in LVA has changed my whole life,” Jenny said. Before I started learning English, I needed my husband for everything. I can do a lot on my own now. I feel so happy.
It is obvious when Jenny comes into the Bloomfield Library twice a week wearing
mom jeans and a big smile, that she is not about to cash in on her return flight to Spain.
When Martha was interviewing and taking pictures of musicians, little did she know it would change her life.
Martha, a native of Colombia, a trained CPA, worked as a treasurer and enjoyed interviewing and photographing Latin musicians in her spare time. “My family always liked music,” Martha said. “My aunts were singers. My family was playing instruments. I always enjoyed percussion.”
During one of her interviews, she met a Cuban recording engineer who was traveling from New Jersey to Bogota on business. After two years of long distance dating, Martha married him and they moved to New Jersey four years ago.
The move proved to be culture shock for Martha. She had lived for 39 years in the same house in Colombia with her mom and twin brothers. Her first introduction to the United States was Newark airport. “The transition from my country was not so good. I did not know English. I loved my life in Colombia. It was hard to leave my professional life. When I came here, I tried to focus on the best things,” Martha said.
The best things were her husband and Literacy Volunteers of America Essex & Passaic Counties. Martha began with LVA as an ESL student. Almost two years later her speaking, writing, and reading English are as high as our native English-speaking students.
“When I came here, I wanted to learn English. It was very important to me. I wanted to get better opportunities in the United States,” Martha said. “It is nice when you can communicate with other people.” Martha works with two tutors and is active in the English/Spanish Language Exchange on Thursday at the Bloomfield Library.
“I improved my English because I work hard every day. I listen to English news, watch English television, and practice speaking with my 17-year-old son. He likes to teach me. Both my son and my husband help me a lot,” Martha said.
When Martha takes time away from her studies, she enjoys nature. She especially enjoys winter as she sees snow days as “a good occasion to be home with my family and relax together.” Martha again put her photography skills to use and has an impressive portfolio of pictures she has taken on her nature walks.
Little did she know that interviewing and photographing musicians would lead to her husband and learning English. After all she just thought it was a hobby.
Before finding LVA, Ana was struggling.
Her life was full, she gardened and occasionally played the penny slots in Atlantic City, but she was a caregiver for her grandsons who, along with their mother, spoke English and Ana didn’t.
She knew a lot of English, but wanted to learn to speak properly.
The El Salvador native, also has a visual impairment which makes it hard to read anything from a magazine to a prescription. She became depressed.
Her husband was taking English and she wanted to learn too. He saw a notice for LVA at his work, and suggested Ana try to learn English through LVA. It turns out through LVA, Ana learns English and has a special device to help her read.
Now Ana, dressed in bright colors, lights up when talking about it.“I’m so happy now,” Ana said with a broad smile.
But getting to that point took time and energy. Her tutor, Nancy Piscotta, worked with Ana for a while before learning about a magnifier from a former tutor with a visual impairment. The desktop sized device enlarges text and projects it on a monitor.
Ana, got help from Nancy and her own son to apply for a similar home device from the New Jersey Department of Human Services Commission for the Blind. Ana waited a long time on the waiting list for her needs to be assessed before getting the device for her home. “I am so thankful for her,” Ana said of Nancy.
She lives with her extended family and now can read doctor’s prescriptions and practices her ESL homework while caring for her grandsons who are 8-years-old and 11-years-old.“They don’t stop,” she said with affection.
Ana is an avid gardener, a hobby she loves, growing tomatoes, cucumbers, jalapenos, and broccoli for fresh salad. “I like to eat fresh food from the garden,” she said.For fun she likes to walk the boardwalk and play the penny slots in Atlantic City.
Ana has lived in the U.S.for thirty years and is aU.S. citizen. She votes in elections and says other should too.
When you go for a blood test with Pilar, she might also tell you about Literacy Volunteers of America. After all, that’s basically how she learned about it.
This former doctor from Guayaquil, Ecuador currently works in northern New Jersey as a phlebotomist. An LVA employee came into her lab about two years ago and told her about LVA’s ESL programs. “She told me I could go afternoon, night or weekend and I knew I would like to attend,” Pilar remembered.
She has been an LVA student for almost two years and has quickly advanced through the program. Pilar first tested as an English Speaker of Other Languages student and she is now a Basic Literacy student on par with native English speakers.
Pilar’s rapid rise comes as no surprise. She has always been passionate about education and knew as a child that she wanted to study medicine. “I liked everything about medicine and wanted to cure people with medical problems,” Pilar said. “I dreamed someday I would be a doctor.” Her step-mother was a nurse and she was also surrounded by family friends who worked in the medical field. “My friend was a doctor and I knew I wanted to give injections. He drew a diagram on a piece of paper and showed me what to touch and not touch,” she said. “It was easy for me.”
Pilar’s dream became a reality after graduating from medical school at Universidad de Guayaquil where she earned a degree in general medicine. Pilar exhibited her love for the field during her residency at Daule Hospital that was located in a rural area. “I worked with old machines. We used candles, not lights. Sometimes there was no electricity and if we had patients on oxygen, we had to send them to other towns.” Pilar delivered babies for five years. “At first I didn’t like it,” she said. I changed my mind when I saw that the women depended on me and I told myself, ‘I got to do it.’”
Political problems and a corrupt government prompted Pilar and her husband to flee Ecuador. Her mother in law was living in New Jersey and said to Pilar, “This is the last time I invite you to come to this country because the laws are changing.”
Pilar, her husband and four young boys made their big move to Newark in 1999. She said, “It was hard to leave Ecuador. I felt like I was coming with my whole life in two suitcases.”
At first, life was not easy for them. Both Pilar and her husband took jobs below their skill levels because of their limited English. “We took jobs not in our profession to be able to educate our children. Our family has always valued education,” she said.
Because medical terms are derived from Latin, Pilar was able to pass her test to become a medical assistant. She had learned to write and speak a little English in Ecuador but said when she started speaking to her patients in the United States, “I realized I knew nothing.”
“I wish I had found LVA earlier,” she said. It changed my life. I feel more secure. I can still do the program and keep my job.”