Students' Success Stories 2023-24
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!
In the heart of Newark, New Jersey, Juan's quest to learn English at Literacy Volunteers of America (LVA) unfolds against a tapestry of resilience, tragedy, and the pursuit of a brighter future.
Juan, hailing from the Dominican Republic, arrived in the U.S. in July 2022. His journey was marked by adversity, starting six months earlier when his father suffered a cerebrovascular accident. Despite the challenge, Juan remained devoted to caring for his parents, who battled health issues, while navigating the complexities of relocation.
In the first weeks of September 2022, tragedy struck. Juan's paternal grandmother and father were tragically murdered, and shortly after, his mother passed away. Amidst grief, Juan found solace in an unexpected place – the decision to learn English.
"I decided to learn English to improve my communication skills," Juan shares, underlining the importance of forging relationships in a new country. Through the internet, he discovered LVA, seeing English proficiency as a tool for connection and empowerment.
For a year now, Juan has navigated the intricacies of the English language with determination. "I have improved a lot since I understand better when English is spoken to me," he reflects. The obstacles he faced, coupled with his disposition and resilience, fueled his commitment to mastering a new language.
Juan's favorite books, "The Rhino" by Scott Alexander and "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie, played a pivotal role in his personal development. These books, he says, taught him how to be a better person and build meaningful bonds with others.
His academic achievements in the Dominican Republic, including a Master's and Bachelor's degree in Business Administration, showcase his dedication and success. Juan takes pride in his education and professional accomplishments, embodying the spirit of overcoming challenges.
Juan's journey at LVA has not only been about language acquisition but also about building a network. "Getting to know the teachers, the administrative team of the institution, and my classmates, I gained a lot of experience from all of them," Juan reflects on the supportive community at LVA.
Balancing English learning with other responsibilities, Juan emphasizes the importance of establishing a schedule. Persistence and discipline are key, he says, echoing the advice he gives to fellow learners: "To achieve similar success, we must be consistent and disciplined in our goals."
Looking ahead, Juan envisions practicing his profession in the United States. His plans for the future are grounded in the belief that learning English has been a worthwhile endeavor. "It's nice when you understand what they express to you in English. That has a positive impact on our lives, since learning English has been worth it," Juan concludes, radiating hope for a brighter future shaped by resilience and the pursuit of knowledge.
Irma, a determined learner from Peru, is reshaping her future through the journey of learning English at Literacy Volunteers of America (LVA). Arriving in the United States in 2018 to join her husband, Irma faced communication barriers that left her dependent on her husband for daily interactions.
In Peru, Irma received a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering, but the barriers of the English language prevented her from feeling comfortable addressing daily activities.
Discovering LVA through her husband, Irma embarked on a three-year English learning odyssey, focusing on improving her writing and speaking skills. Irma’s goals included being able to communicate with other people, shopping at the supermarket, going to the doctor, ordering a delivery, reading books, traveling, and becoming a citizen. She saw all these as integral to being comfortable in her day-to-day life. Her commitment reached a high point when she independently completed her citizenship application, requiring a meticulous understanding of complex instructions.
Amid setbacks like a year-long recovery from a broken ankle and surgery, Irma demonstrated strength. During this time, she turned to online resources, her husband's books, and ways to keep her mind active, transforming obstacles into opportunities to keep learning and growing.
Irma's success story revolves around practical tools and real-life approaches from dedicated tutors like Pearly and Stephanie, to whom she is grateful. Their support and guidance empowered Irma to navigate setbacks, and she used additional resources to continue learning English through YouTube tutorials and printed verb lists during her recovery.
Her advice to aspiring learners emphasizes the importance of seeing learning as a positive activity, coupled with dedication, discipline, and perseverance. Irma's plans for the future include achieving fluency in English as she recognizes its pivotal role in accomplishing her broader objectives.
A unique habit Irma adopted in her language learning journey involved documenting her daily routine. This practice, initially tedious, evolved into a fun and stimulating exercise, significantly impacting her ability to name things appropriately and master the past tense.
She recently finished reading the book Atomic Habits by James Clear. She loved it for its inspiring message on developing good habits and breaking bad ones to achieve our goals. Sharing that “even the smallest, most insignificant habits are the key to making big changes with significant impacts on our lives.”
Irma's story illustrates the power of language acquisition. Through setbacks, persistence, and a commitment to continuous learning, she is overcoming language barriers and inspiring others on a similar path. Her journey is testimony to the belief that learning opens doors, creating opportunities for personal growth and self-discovery. In the evolving tapestry of her life, Irma is crafting a narrative of strength, determination, and the enduring impact of language on one's sense of self and possibilities.
This is Joseph's story, a journey of resilience, and self-empowerment highlighting the difference literacy can make.
Joseph, originally from Haiti, embarked on a challenging nine-year journey through multiple countries, including Surinam, French Guyana, and Martinique, before finally arriving in the United States in 2001. Working in various places along the way, he sent money back home and took care of himself. His path was not only a physical journey but also a testament to his enduring spirit.
It was through a friend that Joseph discovered Literacy Volunteers of America (LVA), a crucial turning point in his life. Despite never having the opportunity to attend school in Haiti, he joined LVA last year, making it his first formal education experience. Learning English became essential for Joseph as he aimed to connect with people and improve his communication skills.
Reflecting on his progress, Joseph expressed, "I feel better." However, he recognizes the areas where he wants to grow further, emphasizing a desire to enhance his reading, writing, and conversational skills. For someone who never had the chance to attend school before, Joseph's commitment to learning is inspiring.
Joseph faced a significant obstacle early in life, escaping abuse in Haiti by running away from home and living on his own in the bushes. Overcoming these challenges shaped his journey and fueled his determination to create a better life for himself.
Learning English has been a game-changer for Joseph. "I can speak for myself," he proudly declares. This newfound ability empowers him to assert his needs and aspirations. A memorable moment in his English-learning journey is when he confidently told his boss, "I don't do this job anymore; I want a promotion."
Joseph acknowledges the crucial role of his tutor, who provides support on weekends. The guidance from teachers and tutors has been instrumental in helping him understand homework and practice speaking English.
To aspiring students, Joseph offers simple yet profound advice: "Practice, and get help." For him, this combination has been key to his success.
Looking ahead, Joseph has clear goals—he wants to become fluent in English and secure a better job. Learning English, for him, is not just about language; it's about gaining agency and breaking down barriers. "This makes a big difference in my life," he shares. With improved English skills, Joseph feels that people can no longer deceive him, and he now stands more confidently in the world. His story is a testament to the transformative impact of literacy and the indomitable human spirit.
Originally from Cuba, Anabel embarked on her journey of learning English when she arrived in the United States in 2019. Armed with her native language, Spanish, Anabel recognized the importance of mastering English in her adopted country. She sees it as a stepping stone to securing better job opportunities.
For over 2.5 years, Anabel has been working hard on honing her English skills. Anabel shared, "I try to study more and improve every day. I take English classes, try to speak better, and practice every day." She's actively working on enhancing her pronunciation, writing, and grammar. Learning a new language is indeed challenging, but she's persisting in her quest. Anabel immerses herself in English by listening to the radio, watching movies with closed captions, and reading books in English.
Anabel loves to read. She shared two of her favorite books: Les Misérables and The Iliad of Homer, which she read in Spanish.
In her home country, Anabel earned a degree in veterinary medicine. Her long-term goal and biggest motivation is to have her credentials recognized in the United States so she can practice her profession. She would like to open her own veterinary practice and English fluency is an essential step on that path.
Learning English has already begun to transform Anabel's life. She's seen improvements in her job and feels a newfound confidence. Despite the challenges, she's grateful for the progress she's making. Anabel's journey isn't without its difficulties, but her commitment to learning shines through. She organizes her daily tasks to ensure she makes time for her studies and rarely misses a class.
Anabel acknowledges the role of her teachers, John and Howard, and her support system at work and home. Their encouragement and assistance have been crucial in her English language journey.
Anabel is most proud of her children and considers them her greatest accomplishment.
When asked about advice for other aspiring learners, Anabel emphasized the importance of starting. She acknowledges everyone's journey is different, but her message to newcomers is clear: "You need to come to class and start."
Anabel's future plans are both ambitious and inspiring. As she aspires to obtain her veterinary license in the U.S., she recognizes it’s a long and challenging process, and she's committed to completing it. We believe in you!
Originally from Ecuador, Martha's life took a transformative turn when she decided to move to the United States with her husband. However, the path to success was laden with hurdles and challenges.
Martha arrived in the United States four years ago, armed with the determination to learn English. Some of her struggles stemmed from Spanish being widely spoken in her New Jersey community. "Practicing English was difficult because, in New Jersey, you can often manage with Spanish," she recalls.
Her journey was marked by sacrifices and separation from her husband, who had initially come to the United States a year before her. After their marriage, Martha became pregnant, and they decided to postpone their return to the U.S. until after the birth of their child. Navigating the embassy's immigration process took a year, and when they finally arrived, the pandemic had descended upon the world, making life even more challenging.
During the pandemic, Martha faced the daunting task of looking after her two children, including her 16-year-old son struggling to adjust to a new country and remote ESL learning. Despite these difficulties, Martha's determination remained unshaken.
Martha's search for English learning resources led her to the Literacy Volunteers of America (LVA) of Essex and Passaic Counties. She enrolled in online classes, completing four courses to date. Her commitment to mastering English is admirable, as she even repeated two sessions to enhance her language skills further and feel more confident about her progress.
Martha's motivation to learn English is driven by two main factors: improved communication with her children's teachers and the aspiration to take the citizenship test. She is keen on honing her speaking skills, though she acknowledges the complexity of grammar.
With a bachelor's degree in hospitality management and tourism from her home country, Martha brings a wealth of education and professional experience to her new life in the U.S. She is proud of her academic achievements and the joy of being a devoted mother to her two children.
Learning English has already had a significant impact on Martha's life. She now feels more confident while interacting with her youngest child's school. However, she's aware that there's still more to learn, especially as her daughter prepares to enter kindergarten.
One memorable experience on her English learning journey was helping a friend who lost her passport while visiting the United States. Martha's newfound language skills allowed her to assist with tasks like filing a police report and navigating the airport, an achievement that filled her with pride.
Martha acknowledges the crucial role of her teachers, Jalaire Craver and Olga Roberts, in her journey. She appreciates the structure Ms. Jalaire brings to her classes, helping students stay on track and the patience and humor they both bring to the table.
Martha's advice to aspiring English learners is simple yet profound: "You must be patient." She emphasizes that learning English is a gradual process that requires practice and persistence to build confidence.
Looking ahead, Martha's goals include applying for citizenship, learning to drive, and eventually securing a part-time job to provide for her children while being present in their lives. Her story inspires all who face challenges while pursuing their dreams, demonstrating that success is within reach with dedication and perseverance.
In a remarkable narrative of determination and ambition, Evangelina Medina, a Venezuelan native, has forged a path to success in the United States through unwavering resolve and a commitment to education. Arriving on American soil five years ago with a tourist visa, Evangelina embarked on a transformative quest to conquer English, a pursuit that has not only enabled her seamless integration into her community but also propelled her career aspirations.
Fueled by her desire to communicate fluently and engage fully in her new homeland, Evangelina meticulously researched platforms to aid her language acquisition journey. This quest led her to the Literacy Volunteers of Essex & Passaic Counties (LVA), a renowned institution dedicated to enhancing English skills for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL).
Evangelina's insightful choice proved pivotal. At LVA, she found a comprehensive ESOL program that not only addressed her linguistic needs but also provided an environment of dedicated educators and coordinators who shared her passion for growth. The program's holistic approach resonated deeply with Evangelina, igniting her determination to excel.
With an unwavering goal of integrating into the community and thriving professionally, Evangelina immersed herself in her studies. Over two years, her dedication yielded tangible results, marked by steady enhancement in her language proficiency. While acknowledging that improvement is an ongoing process, particularly in the realm of listening comprehension, Evangelina embraces the gradual nature of language learning, recognizing that practice and discipline are integral.
In an innovative approach to bolster her listening skills, Evangelina turned to her passion for interior decoration. Engaging with English music and videos centered around her interest not only honed her auditory acuity but also facilitated navigation through professional courses conducted in English, enriching her language journey.
A trailblazer in her professional pursuits, Evangelina holds a degree in Human Resources Management and a master's degree in Education from her native country. Driven by unwavering ambition to excel in her chosen field, she ventured into insurance, where language proficiency is paramount. Evangelina's tenacity culminated in a memorable milestone - her first successful sale conducted entirely in English. Despite imperfections, this accomplishment reinforced her belief in boundless possibilities ahead.
The immigrant experience often presents challenges, and Evangelina's journey is no exception. Starting anew and acclimating to unfamiliar surroundings and job responsibilities demanded unwavering dedication. However, her unwavering focus, determination, and commitment have propelled her beyond barriers, illustrating that with hard work, pursuit of dreams knows no bounds.
As an immigrant, Evangelina's story underscores the potential for success within each individual, regardless of origin. Her empowering narrative stands as a testament to the significance of seizing opportunities and persevering relentlessly. Reflecting upon her remarkable journey, Evangelina imparts a profound message to fellow immigrants: seize chances to learn, grow, and excel. Through organizations like LVA, with unwavering support and effective programs, success becomes an attainable reality.
In Evangelina Medina's own words, "The best is yet to come." As she forges ahead on her path of accomplishment, she not only embraces this sentiment but embodies it, serving as an inspiring example of triumph over adversity, the embodiment of the American dream realized through determination, education, and an unyielding spirit.
Born and raised in China, Summer (Yan) Chan embarked on an incredible journey to the United States in the summer of 2018. Motivated by the necessity of learning a new language in a foreign land, Summer discovered the Literacy Volunteers of America (LVA) through a recommendation from the Millburn Library staff and thus began her pursuit of English proficiency.
English literacy became a significant focus for Summer as she recognized its vital role in integrating into American society. Her determination and commitment to continuous learning propelled her forward, with more than four years of dedicated English language study under her belt. Over time, she witnessed noticeable improvements in her language skills, particularly in comprehension, allowing her to engage more meaningfully with others. Eager to expand her vocabulary further, Summer remains resolute in her dedication to mastering new words.
Amidst her studies, Summer found solace and inspiration within the pages of a book titled "Stories of Life and Death." Penned by a New Zealand doctor, the book delves into various tales from the ICU, providing profound insights into life and mortality. Summer's fascination with the subject matter prompted introspection, contemplating the delicate balance between life-saving measures and compassionate end-of-life care. Although medical jargon presented a challenge due to language barriers, the translated version in Chinese allowed her to grasp the essence of the narratives.
Reflecting on her educational journey, Summer fondly recalls her college years when she pursued accounting in China. She shares that in her middle age, she finds that feeling happy is the most important accomplishment.
Learning English opened doors to new cultural experiences and facilitated her adjustment to life in America. One particularly unforgettable moment for Summer was her initial visit to an ESL class. Without a driver's license or a car, she relied on trains to attend her lessons, which tested her resolve and resourcefulness.
While she acknowledges the absence of specific support systems, Summer remains grateful for the guidance and encouragement she has received from her tutors. Their patience and kindness have been invaluable, allowing her to navigate the challenges of language acquisition with renewed vigor.
Like many language learners, Summer encountered setbacks, particularly in memorizing new words. Frustration occasionally clouded her path, but her perseverance and resilience helped her bounce back and continue her progress.
For aspiring students pursuing similar accomplishments, Summer offers heartfelt advice: remain patient and steadfast in your learning. She emphasizes the importance of relaxation and maintaining a positive attitude while undertaking the journey of English literacy.
Looking ahead, Summer's vision encompasses securing employment in her adopted homeland. She understands that language proficiency will play a significant role in achieving this goal and remains determined to continue honing her skills.
With each passing day, Summer continues to embrace new horizons, eager to embrace the opportunities that lie ahead.