Students' Success Stories 2022-23
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!
Magaly faced the usual daunting obstacles that confront new arrivals to the U.S. from Latin America and other countries.
Her minimal grasp of English made it difficult to understand others, including vital contacts like her family doctors and children’s teachers. And those same language barriers hampered her job prospects.
Nine years later she is an intermediate student, with an ease of speaking English that comes from years of practice, in her case time spent studying at an Orange adult learning center, at Essex County College, and now at LVA. She also practices with her children – a son, 14, and daughter, 12 – and enjoys English language movies.
Her progress is likely due to a steady work ethic she gained at the hands of her late father, a former police officer, and her mother, who stayed home to raise Magaly and her seven siblings.
“My dad, who died two years ago, taught me to always work hard to get ahead,” said Magaly, who works as a housekeeper but aspires to a job in the medical field. “He always did that.”
For four months, Magaly has worked with tutor Mary O’Connor on everything from grammar to writing in a group that includes students from Egypt and Brazil.
Magaly “works very hard to improve because she really wants to get back to a level of a job that is commensurate with her background,” Mary noted. “She really puts the effort into it. I’ve not only seen an improvement but a confidence that seems to be growing.”
Magaly is a native of Azogues, an Andean city in south-central Ecuador. She studied the fundamentals of electricity in school and graduated to find herself one of only a few female electricians in the city.
“It was unusual to find a female electrician at that time,” Magaly said. “I knew only about two female electricians in my town, who were still in the college, and they said it wasn’t easy because the men didn’t like women to be electricians.”
It wasn’t her first choice anyway. “I wanted to be a police officer but my father didn’t like the idea because it was very dangerous,” she explained.
There also wasn’t much work for her as an electrician. As she does today, Magaly assisted her husband with his electrician practice but wound up working in libraries, first in “SINAB”, Ecuador’s national system of public libraries, and later in a middle school library. At the latter she helped children improve their reading skills, guided them through writing and art projects, helped them with homework, and accompanied them on cultural trips.
Outside of work and her studies, Magaly enjoys spending time with her husband, children, and two sisters who live in the metropolitan area. She takes frequent walks in the park with her pet, a Maltese-Poodle mixed breed dog named “Muneca”, which is Spanish for “doll.”
Farmacéutica is not just a word on Rossi’s resume; it’s her passion. And, for a quarter of a century, it was career.
“I love to help people,” Rossi, a literacy student from the Dominican Republic, explained as her motivation to become a pharmacist.
Even so, pharmacy wasn’t her first choice when she considered a field that could help the masses. That was journalism, she said, a career her mother disapproved of. So, Rossi, who was already working as a drug store assistant, opted to learn pharmacy.
After five years of study, she left the Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo with a college degree, a pharmacist’s license, and a bright future. She would spend the next 25 years as a pharmacist before leaving for the U.S. in 2017.
Rossi noted that pharmacies in her home country operate differently from those in the U.S. There, many medications are available without prescription or are prescribed right there at the drug store, after a patient is interviewed by the pharmacist, according to published reports.
“In my country if you have a backache or stomachache you go to a pharmacy and say I need some medicine to help me,” she recalled. “In some cases you don’t need a prescription because some people in my country may not want to go the doctor.”
She’s pining to get back to her career but first must get past her fear of speaking English.
“Í would love to work in my area, pharmacy, and I have plans to do that, eventually,” said Rossi who, for now, earns a living by shopping for and delivering groceries to clients. “I still have some fear that when people speak to me I won’t understand. At times I feel very scared.”
Part of her issue is that, outside of her library classes, she hasn’t found many folks to practice with, not even family members.
She laments that, when she tries to speak English with her husband, who is Dominican, or her daughter, age 21, they either answer in Spanish immediately or do so within minutes.
“It’s difficult,” Rossi explains. “I didn’t work at any time with American people. I believe this is my biggest problem because I never worked in an American area.”
Nevertheless, Rossi was able to understand questions posed in English and able to respond in English, during our telephone interviews. She spent a year studying English at Bronx Community College before enrolling in LVA where she studies weekly with two tutors.
In addition, she said “I read and sometimes I watch TV in English. And sometimes I listen to American music. When I don’t understand something, I look it up in a dictionary.” She also uses Google for translation help, she added.
Rossi likes to spend time with her family, including her husband, daughter, son, age 24, mom and three of her four brothers, who all live in New York and New Jersey. She also enjoys reading and attending church.
This is how you come fluent: Surround yourself by speakers of your target language and engage them daily. At least that’s how Victor, an English student from Peru, did it.
“All my neighbors are Americans,” explained Victor, who can actually chart his progress by talks with fellow building residents. “When I first rented my apartment, I said to my neighbors just ‘Hello’ and ‘How are you?’ and that’s it.”
But improvements came quickly. They almost had to: Not only are his neighbors’ native English speakers but so are the clients of the construction company where he works and the Italian restaurant where he delivers food.
“Now I can communicate with them,” he said, citing his suburban neighbors. “Now I can talk a lot of things about the building, the amount of the rent, the service. That’s so great.”
Victor arrived in the U.S. two years ago. He’d earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and a Master’s of Business Administration degree in Lima, where he was raised with three siblings and worked as a commercial manager of a construction company.
Here he works as an assistant manager for another construction company, one that installs and refurbishes floors and ceilings. This too requires frequent use of English, both verbal and written.
“I do proposals and invoices and mailings to customers, always in English,” he explained, adding that he uses Google Translate to check his work.
In his second job, as a deliverer of restaurant food, Victor found himself counting money in English, which surprised even him.
Victor lives in Essex County with his wife and two daughters, ages 8-years and four months. An older daughter and other family members remain in Peru.
He said he loves to take long walks in a park near his apartment and has joined the YMCA where he swims with his daughter and works out in the gym.
And he has another passion: He can’t resist adding pieces to his already massive collection of Star Wars figures; the Force is too strong. He might just own enough replica figurine fighters to engage in intergalactic warfare of sorts. His favorite: Darth Vadar, one of the most iconic villains in pop culture.
“Here, I think I have more than 500 pieces. I don’t have space for all my pieces,” he said with a laugh.
Esdras began his restaurant career at the bottom, as a dishwasher in the sweltering kitchen of a busy suburban eatery. Today, he’s the chef.
His rise began only a couple of years after his start, when managers saw something promising in the eager and good-natured young man, a former vegetable farmer from Guatemala. So, they taught him to cook.
Lessons covered traditional Italian fare – preparing everything from spaghetti and meatballs to lasagna, baked ziti, ravioli, and other flavorful dishes. After a three-year apprenticeship, the job was his.
“It was a great time when they told me that,” Esdras said. “I was learning and I enjoyed it. So when they told me ‘Oh, you want to be a chef?’ I said ‘Sure, that is my dream’.”
Actually, it’s just one of his dreams.
“I have so many plans for my life,” Esdras explained. “The first one is I want to start a small business. I want to open a restaurant, an Italian restaurant.” Or, he added, it could be a breakfast and lunch place that serves American cuisine. Or maybe something else.
“In this county there are so many opportunities we can take to make our lives better and help our families,” Esdras said. “We come to this country for the opportunities, to make something good of ourselves.”
Perfecting his English is an important part of the plans, he added. At LVA he studies the language with two tutors each week.
“He is such a pleasure to work with, always taking the initiative to volunteer to read and answer questions,” said tutor Renee Porcile. “Esdras has boosted his confidence over the 10 weeks that I’ve had the pleasure of tutoring him. He always asks the right questions which assures me that he is grasping the material.”
Esdras was raised with four siblings on a farm in Tecpán, Guatemala. He completed high school and studied agriculture in college for two years. Even though he has a high school diploma, he attends a GED program here in the states. That’s not unusual. Many immigrant students with high school diplomas earned overseas do the same, mainly to take advantage of the extensive English vocabulary and grammar that GED programs offer, often with affordable tuitions.
In his spare time, Esdras enjoys playing soccer as a midfielder, watching Netflix movies in English with English subtitles, and practicing English with neighbors.
He even moved, from a Spanish-speaking neighborhood to an English-speaking one, in order to get more practice, after his former neighbors insisted that he speak to them only in Spanish.
“I said ‘But we need to practice English because that is very important in this country’,” Esdras recalled. “It doesn’t matter if we are Spanish or Chinese, or whatever. We are in the United States, we have to speak English.”