Since 1986, VEP has helped thousands of Chester County’s most vulnerable newcomers learn English and achieve U.S. citizenship.
During the past 30 years, the Volunteer English Program (VEP) has evolved from a small, grassroots effort to support homeless adults in West Chester to become the only independent 501.c.3 organization in the region exclusively dedicated to the mission of providing free, one-to-one tutoring in English language skills, cultural immersion, and U.S. citizenship for immigrants and refugees who live and/or work in Chester County. Through its many collaborative partnerships, VEP continues to enhance the economic and social quality of life for immigrant families, community members, consumers, employers and employees in Chester County and remains uniquely positioned at the forefront of the region’s current immigration wave.
In 1986, while investigating the need for a literacy program for the homeless, the Calvary Lutheran Church in West Chester discovered a growing need for the teaching of English as a foreign language to immigrants in Chester County. June Hamilton, a resident of Chester County and a group of volunteers from the Church organized and administered a tutoring program that would one day become known as the Volunteer English Program (VEP). Realizing the monumental task at hand, they applied for small grants in order to purchase books and supplies.
In its first years, the program saw modest beginnings and served fewer than a dozen students in the basement of the church. As the program continued to grow, a larger grant was awarded and VEP was able to hire its first paid director – Virginia Schoenfeld, to administer the program. Mrs. Schoenfeld’s successors include Carol Klauss, Linda Grosse, and our current Executive Director Ms. Terri Potrako.
Today, the Volunteer English Program serves over 200 adult students per year who come from 42 different countries. VEP depends on approximately 300 passionate and dedicated volunteers who deliver free English language instruction and lessons on U.S. culture and customs. VEP is governed by a Board of Directors who work pro bono – some of whom have been or still are tutors.
Finally, the seed of passion for helping others that was planted by Ms. Hamilton and her peers continues to be a prolific presence throughout Chester County even today.