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!
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.”