What inspires you to give?
Tutors will tell us it comes from a place of gratitude for their life experiences and a deep desire to share.
For students, it is a way to say thank you for introducing a tutor, friend, and confidant into their lives.
For many of our donors and foundation supporters, the ancient African proverb often rings true: “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go with others.”
As board and staff, we are inspired to bring people together, to create possibilities, and to become part of one another’s stories, like with Denis and Helen from Belarus.
As immigrants to the U.S. less than three years ago, this young couple meets individually with their two accomplished VEP tutors. They have set their sights on their own personal and professional goals for improving English language skills. To that end, they dedicate many hours every week towards making progress.
Helen and Denis have each become advocates for VEP by participating in special events. Denis recently prepared an oral presentation for an audience of new tutors in training. Sharing his story live took tremendous courage, especially as he answered questions from the floor as if he had spoken English all his life. Helen, after attending the virtual Global Gathering this fall, chose to write about her VEP experience.
“You help newcomers in the USA to adapt to a new language environment and new life. You are always ready to lend a helping hand to everyone who comes to you. You lead step by step from easiest to hardest. Your help gives us confidence, supports us in reaching the goal of finding a job and making new friends.
“All tutors are big personalities, incredibly intelligent, extremely involved in their work. They teach students [who] are from different countries, with different pronunciation and language skills. It is really hard and complicated work. They teach us not only the language, but also introduce us to tradition and lifestyle and help us to integrate into society despite the fact we are very different. Your work is invaluable for us!”
A gift to this year’s Annual Fund makes it possible for us to fulfill our mission to Helen, Denis and the hundreds of adults who depend on us and their tutors to be here, every day of the year, for 35 years and counting.
In 2022, that means adapting our meeting space virtually, purchasing new instructional software for all 200 active pairs, ensuring that we have a safe and accessible office location for visitors to drop in when they don’t have the language skills to phone or email us for help, and purchasing and mailing free workbooks to students – many of whom have never held a book of their own.
There are many reasons to consider a gift this year to VEP. The most important one, of course, is yours!
Today, I invite you to continue the tradition that is the Volunteer English Program. Help us to inspire new English language learners and tutors to go Far, together, in the year ahead.
To echo Helen’s words, your gift is invaluable to us! Thank you.
November 10, 2021
Global Gathering – A Virtual Success
Prior to the Pandemic, VEP held a Global Gathering in the fall every year as a pre-Thanksgiving celebration for all of us: tutors, students with their families, guests, staff and board members. It has remained, in fact, one of the most beloved VEP traditions. It is a free jubilee that celebrates unity, diversity and friendship with games, prizes, and overall VEP fellowship.
This year, we held the Gathering virtually on Zoom for Covid safety reasons, especially for students’ families with young children not yet vaccinated. Thank you to the Students and Tutors who joined us for the fun. Learning about other cultures through interactive food trivia games on www.baamboozle.com and the fast-paced Idioms quiz using www.kahoot.com made the hour together go by quickly. Special recognition goes to Wegmans Market, Panera, and the Paoli-Malvern-Berwyn Rotary for their generous support and gifts.
We look forward to being in person next year!
May 14, 2021
Kicking off the “35 Days for 35 Years” Challenge fundraiser in support of VEP — click on the above video to listen to a live invitation!
February 21, 2021
“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” — Nelson Mandela
February 21st is International Mother Language Day! A worldwide annual observance announced by UNESCO in 1999 and inspired by the Bangledeshi people’s fight to preserve the Bangla language, this day is dedicated to celebrating linguistic and cultural diversity and promoting multilingualism.
A person’s mother language is the first language that someone speaks. It helps define their identity and connects individuals to their cultural roots. Many think of their mother language as a thing of great beauty. This is especially true if they live in an area where their mother language is not spoken. For them, their mother language is a way to stay connected to their homeland and their culture.
At VEP, we recognize the important role we play as tutors and guides in helping our students preserve their linguistic and cultural roots while learning the English language and American cultural traditions. VEP students whose children grow up learning English in school are often presented with the added challenge of encouraging their children to remain multilingual so they can maintain their connections to their cultural heritage and communicate with grandparents and other relatives in their parents’ native countries.
There are dozens of languages today that have only one native speaker still living. According to the UN, “Every two weeks a language disappears, taking with it an entire cultural and intellectual heritage. At least 43% of the estimated 6,000 languages spoken in the world are endangered. Only a few hundred languages have genuinely been given a place in education systems and the public domain, and less than a hundred are used in the digital world…When languages fade, so does the world’s rich tapestry of cultural diversity. Opportunities, traditions, memory, unique modes of thinking and expression — valuable resources for ensuring a better future — are also lost.” From the United Nations International Mother Language Day microsite.
VEP strives to embrace the rich cultural diversity inherent in the over 25 languages spoken by our adult students. If you are currently a tutor, consider dedicating a tutoring session to your student’s mother language and having them teach you a message in their mother tongue. If you would like to become involved in enriching the experiences and contributions of immigrant friends living in the area, contact us or register for an upcoming virtual Tutor Training Workshop.
Just months before life as we know it changed, VEP celebrated its annual Global Gathering, bringing together students, tutors, friends, and families for an international celebration.
At dinner that warm November 2019 afternoon, Ha, a VEP student and native Vietnamese speaker, introduced herself to longtime tutor and conversation group facilitator, John. Their casual, oh-by-the-way conversation led to the discovery that both had Romanian connections, she through university and he as a first generation Romanian-American with parents who imparted to him their native tongue. Their fluency in Romanian and English led to unexpected and robust conversations over dinner. “Only at a VEP event could something like this happen,” shared Alan Lee, a member of the Board of Directors who was delighted at having landed, purely by chance, at their table.
Conversations in English like this are taking place every day. And thanks to tutors, students, and VEP working together to move from in-person to blended instruction throughout the pandemic, they are taking place everywhere – six feet apart on beach chairs near local library parking lots, on fair weather days at neighborhood parks, masked and distanced at the end of driveways, and through the advancement of technology via Zoom, WhatsApp, and iPhones. Conversations eased the anxiety and fear of the unknown that we felt in early March, and they are essential to staying connected and reducing isolation in eager anticipation of vaccinations in 2021.
VEP remains the constant, and often sole, source of support for immigrant friends who were overwhelmed by the information they received this year. Needing immediate assistance to interpret safety requirements, complicated unemployment and stimulus forms, directions to health and food resources, and the language to understand and share secure Census surveys, VEP tutors were there as trusted guides. When community resource information was needed in 50 languages, our staff and website provided expert direction as well.
A donation to this year’s Annual Appeal will strengthen our ability to move through the challenges of the pandemic, build our tutor corps through virtual training and sponsor new resources so that our adult students increase their English skills.
Ever mindful that this year has meant the loss of loved ones and financial security for many, we thank you for considering this request. Your gift today to the Annual Appeal will be used to support general operations and programming.
As we continue our conversations, we laser focus on what is most important to us as individuals and as a community. Together, we look ahead to the possibilities that 2021 will bring as a result of our shared commitment to helping those who need English to survive.
Warmest regards for a happy, healthy New Year!
To become a student or a tutor, please contact us by phone, 610-918-2222 x2 or by email volunteerenglish.org.
September 22, 2020
VEP’s student-centered, goals-focused approach to learning English sometimes leads to helping students navigate the naturalization process and eventually voting rights. With this in mind, and coupled with safety concerns due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, VEP would like to highlight recent changes by the Chester County Board of Elections to make it easier to drop off mail-in ballots.
Drop boxes for mail-in ballots will be available at multiple Chester County libraries and the Chester County Government Services Center, starting on Tuesday, October 13.
Drop boxes (beginning Tuesday, October 13): 10 drop boxes for ballots will be placed at public libraries beginning Oct. 13. Hours of operation for these drop boxes are: Monday through Friday, 9:00 AM to 7:00 PM, and Saturday and Sunday from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM.
Libraries: Avon Grove, Chester County (Exton), Coatesville, Downingtown, Easttown, Henrietta Hankin* (Chester Springs), Honey Brook, Kennett, Oxford*, Parkesburg, Phoenixville, and Spring City. (NOTE: the West Chester Library is NOT to be included).
West Chester Government Services Center: An additional 24/7 ballot drop box location will be available at the West Chester Government Services Center at 601 Westtown Road.
*The Hankin (Chester Springs) and Oxford branches will serve as satellite election centers (beginning Monday, October 5) to assist voters in obtaining their ballots and the safe and expedited return of ballots. They will be able to perform all Voter Services activities.
All Ballot Drop Boxes will be staffed and secured while in operation. Drop boxes will be taken back to West Chester each night by employees with body cameras.
Satellite Election Offices:
- Henrietta Hankin Library
Address: 215 Windgate Dr., Chester Springs, PA 19425
Hours of Operation for the Henrietta Hankin Library Satellite Election Office:
Monday – 9:30AM-5:00PM
Tuesday – 9:30AM-8:00PM
Wednesday – 9:30AM-5:00PM
Thursday – 9:30AM-8:00PM
Friday – 9:30AM-5:00PM
Saturday – 9:30AM-1:00PM
Sunday – Closed
- Oxford Public Library
Address: 48 S. 2nd St., Oxford, PA 19363
Hours of Operation for the Oxford Public Library Satellite Election Office are:
Monday – 10:00AM-5:00PM
Tuesday – 1:00PM-8:00PM
Wednesday – 10:00AM-5:00PM
Thursday – 1:00PM-8:00PM
Friday – 10:00AM-2:00PM
Saturday – 9:00AM-1:00PM
Sunday – Closed
Counting HQ: In order to count what is likely to be the most ballots cast in Chester County history, we will be computing the election results at West Chester University’s Ehinger Gymnasium. The Chester County Board of Elections is urging citizens to cast their ballots as quickly as possible to make sure they arrive on time and to make this process a little bit easier on our hardworking election officials.
- All postage will be paid on return ballots.
- Votes be counted if postmarked by Tuesday, November 3 at 8 pm and received by Friday, Nov. 6.
- 195 of the 211 (92%) polling locations have been staffed so far, and some more locations may be added. These locations will be shared publicly and with the voters in advance of Election Day.
All of this information and more can be found on the Chester County Election Portal: https://chesco.org/156/Voter-Services
August 24, 2020
Creating a Global Community: Care, Courage and Commitment
More than fifty tutors and staff gathered virtually in early summer for VEP’s fifth annual Tutor Summit, a forum designed to foster dialog and collaboration between and for tutors. The morning began with an inspiring presentation by plenary speaker Dr. Maria Guajardo, streamed live from her home in Tokyo, where she serves as Professor, Dean, and Deputy Vice-President at Soku University. Born to Mexican immigrant migrant workers in California, Dr. Guajardo graduated with honors from Harvard, received her MA & PhD from the University of Denver, and is the first female, non-Japanese dean at Soku University.
Dr. Guajardo spoke passionately about the importance of relationships in creating a global community. She identified three key elements: care, courage and commitment. She encouraged tutors to think back to those people — parents, teachers, coaches, and pastors — who believed in them and inspired them to return that favor by helping others. Dr. Guajardo highlighted the courage it takes to not only step out of your own world and into a new multilingual, multinational one, but the courage it takes to develop new relationships and be convinced that you can make a difference. Finally, she encouraged participants to commit to sharing hope, especially with those who may be feeling hopeless.
“We don’t know where your students will end up — this year, next year, in ten years,” concluded Dr. Guajardo. “But because you care, because you have been courageous, and because you made a commitment to show up, together we are creating a global community.”
VEP is able to organize such engaging activities through your generous financial support. I invite you to watch Dr. Guajardo’s Presentation and then visit VEP’s Donate page to choose your preference for making a gift that will help sustain our efforts through these uncertain times. A gift at any level translates to success for many.
July 30, 2020
July was BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) Mental Health Month, also referred to as Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. In an effort to bring awareness to struggles that people of color face regarding mental health in the U.S., Yahoo Life is republished this story. It was originally published on April 30, 2020.
Experts say that many Latinx communities across the United States are in the midst of a mental health crisis during the coronavirus pandemic because of economic and public health disparities as well as cultural stigma around mental health issues.
Margarita Alegria, a professor at the Harvard Medical School and chief of the Disparities Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital, says the combination of stress over employment, lack of insurance and lack of information has created a perfect storm for Latinx communities.
“These disparities have been amplified by COVID-19 in Latinx communities. They really are suffering,” she says. “I think Latinos are being hit hard because of several things … similar to blacks, they have very high rates of poverty. So they’re the ones who are in low-wage jobs that have laid off an enormous amount of people.”
And for those who haven’t been laid off, Alegria says they are working, which has created its own additional set of anxieties.
“They’re less likely to have opportunities to do this work at a distance,” she says. “Many are in construction, hospitality and leisure industries.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that workers without paid sick leave might be more likely to continue to work even when they are sick, which could increase their exposure to other workers who may have COVID-19. The report says that Hispanic workers have lower rates of access to paid leave than white non-Hispanic workers.
How COVID-19 is affecting people of different races, particularly for the Latino community. (Design: Nathalie Cruz for Yahoo Life)
“You already have conditions that do not enable you access to health care. That does not enable you access to even vacation if you have to be out of work for two weeks, not to mention a month or two,” says Monica Villalta, director of inclusion at the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), where she is also the diversity officer. “And then you have the emotional response to feeling under attack by a virus that may be lurking anywhere.”
A recent Pew Research Center poll found that Hispanics (43 percent) are far more likely than whites (18 percent) to be concerned about getting COVID-19 and needing to be hospitalized.
According to the Henry K. Kaiser Family Foundation, 19 percent of non-elderly Hispanics do not have health insurance, compared with 11 percent for blacks and 8 percent for whites. And the CDC reports that, compared with whites, Hispanics are almost three times as likely to be uninsured.
“I’m very worried that in terms of psychological distress or mental health problems, they’ll have less access to insurance-based programs and that they’ll have to depend pretty much exclusively on … community clinics,” says Alegria.
In addition to this, Alegria says many in the Latinx community have a lack of trust providing personal information to medical professionals out of fear of being reported to authorities.
“Many of the Latinos right now, with … deportations, I think people are extremely worried about what information they are willing to give,” says Alegria, “and how that might impact whether they’re going to be traced.”
As a result, she says there’s underreporting of COVID-19 cases in the Latinx community. “We’re seeing … that you get a lot of cases where race and ethnicity are not disclosed or race-ethnicity not reported. And therefore, I think it’s very hard to follow … the cases of COVID-19 [among] Latinos.”
And for those Hispanic workers who are exposed to COVID-19, Alegria says there is additional stress due to lack of information and resources written in Spanish.
Last week the CDC reported that, in response to a COVID-19 outbreak at the Smithfield Foods pork plant in Sioux Falls, S.D., management handed out informational pamphlets about the virus in English, even though over 40 languages are spoken by workers there — including Swahili, French and Spanish.
There have also been issues with language barriers preventing proper medical and mental health care due to a lack of access to interpreters.
“There is not only a lack of resources available in Spanish but, worse, lack of culturally competent resources that are actually culturally relevant to members of the community,” says Villalta.
“Mental health is an issue that we in the Latinx community don’t often talk about proactively, and there is a lot of stigma,” she says. “And that stigma, along with the lack of understanding of what options for treatment and where you can get help in a holistic and a culturally relevant matter, is a big barrier.”
In response to this, NAMI has released a Spanish-language guide that features topics related specifically to mental health and COVID-19 and features a variety of topics including managing anxiety, finding online communities and accessing affordable services.
She says the goal is to make the content as relevant as possible to the families who need it the most. “If we’re going to make it relevant to members of the Latino community, we have to go beyond that. We have to talk about, ‘Wait, I still have to go to work. What can I do to mitigate my anxiety so I can protect myself physically and then protect my family?’”
She says the guide includes a section on what to do when you get home after working in the outside world, what to do with clothes that were worn. It also addresses how to deal with living in close quarters with other people, some of whom might not be relatives. And the guide also addresses domestic abuse resources while sheltering in place.
“We [also] include things you can do at home that are low cost or no cost, for example, mindfulness and breathing,” she says. “There’s no health without mental health.”
The CDC says the federal government must continue tracking and monitoring racial disparities in COVID-19 cases and complications. It also recommends providing better information to health care workers to understand cultural differences among patients and to better understand how they interact with the health care system.
Alegria says it’s also critical to work with community-based organizations that Latinx communities trust to disseminate resources and information.
NAMI has partnered with Hispanics in Philanthropy to reach an extensive network of agencies to help staff share the mental health guide.
“Our advocacy and the advocacy team of those serving Latinos are making efforts so that there is access and we increase the awareness … the COVID-19 virus has showcased that we are really so interrelated and interconnected and that we cannot neglect the most vulnerable populations,” says Villalta. “We cannot neglect linguistic minorities, and we cannot neglect the well-being of the members of the Latino community.”
Out of Chaos Blossoms Hope
June 7, 2020
In a time of enormous colliding crises, we have searched for the right words to inspire our VEP community. Ever mindful that ‘implicit bias’ and cultural unawareness impact all individuals from diverse backgrounds, this is an unprecedented hour for us as a country and an organization.
Over the past several days, the staff and I have found inspiration in the following messages.
G.F., a 30-year-old Portuguese speaker from Brazil, as well as an aspiring business owner here in Chester County, was asked by his VEP tutor to write a paragraph in English about how the COVID-19 Pandemic has impacted him directly. To the tutor’s delight, the response was so uplifting that it begged to be shared. “Meeting” remotely (by email and telephone) during these restrictive months, both tutor and student look forward to their sessions in person again when it’s time or, as G.F. says, “when everything will return to normal.”
“The pandemic took us by surprise, left us scared, without work for some time, without having contact with family and friends. In the middle of it all we received wonderful news, I will be a daddy again. We will come out stronger and more united.
“At that moment, I got more from my wife and my son João Gabriel. We learned to make new recipes, we cycled, we put together a puzzle, and we spent hours on FaceTime with family members in Brazil.
“We are counting the hours when everything will return to normal and we can get together with friends, English classes and be able to live life as before.”
The Superintendent of Phoenixville Schools (a public school district ripe with diversity from all over the world), believes in starting with upcoming youth. Below are excerpts from his letter to the Phoenixville School District Community, released on 6/5/2020.
Dear Phoenixville School Community,
Racism has no place in Phoenixville or for that matter anywhere in our country. Unfortunately, over the last several months and honestly for many decades, multiple examples of racism have played across the national stage. The recent appalling killing of George Floyd has brought forth the explicit pain and anger people of color are experiencing. As a white male, while I cannot fully comprehend the thoughts, feelings, opinions or experiences of black men, women, children, or any person of color, I can and must listen, learn and empathize. How can it be that in this country a person cannot go for a run or birdwatching and not be or feel safe, or worse, not return home. It is with these thoughts, feelings and experiences in mind that we, the community, must be moved to support constructive remedies to racism and biases that exist in our society.
Later today, Phoenixville High School students have organized a peaceful protest, to show their support for the diverse Phoenixville community. Our students’ goal is to peacefully stand together and show that they are against racism and implicit bias. They are to be applauded and supported.
The students are doing what I see happening every day in Phoenixville. Every day, I see the amazing work of all the local non-profits and agencies who work tirelessly to ensure everyone in this amazing community is treated with respect and dignity. Every day, I see the thoughtful and caring work of the faculty and staff of the District as they work to provide a quality education to all students. Every day, I see how the places of worship in Phoenixville provide healing, direction and love for the Phoenixville community. Every day I see the local first responders and health care workers doing all they can to care for all whom they serve.
Yes, Phoenixville is an amazing community. One filled with the desire to ensure all are treated with respect and love.
Yet, within this community we have children (and adults) who are scared about what has been and is happening in this world and what it means for them and their future. They need our support. As a person, District and Community we are all compelled to step forward and acknowledge that the killing of an unarmed black man is wrong and will not be tolerated. We all need to work to end racism.
Over the past few years, as a District, we have worked hard in faculty and staff meetings to address implicit bias and increase cultural awareness. We have had honest and difficult conversations with each other, with the goal of helping us all grow. We have had honest conversations about equity and what we need to do to provide an equitable education. Select faculty members in each building have been trained on restorative practices and they will train all staff so that we can incorporate restorative practices in all of our schools. Our work is not complete. We will continue these difficult conversations and our efforts to come together and to understand. We want all children to feel emotionally and socially safe, accepted, and valued. Your children deserve nothing less.
As a District and Community we have work to do. But having these difficult conversations will make Phoenixville an even more amazing community for all.
Racism has no place in Phoenixville. The horrific killing of George Floyd should never have occurred and acts of racism must stop. Let’s continue to grow our understanding and empathy for all peoples.
Together We Can, Together We Will, Together We are Phoenixville.
May all have a peaceful weekend.
Alan D. Fegley, Ed.D., Superintendent of Schools
We hope that you find both of these expressions comforting and inspiring. Until we are together again, be safe and be well.
Since June 7th, we have received many resources from community partners on the issue of social justice. We invite you to visit the Chester County Community Foundation’s website for educational resources on understanding race, and actions to take to fight for equality: https://chescocf.
May 5, 2020 –
In the words of José Andrés – 2019 Peace Prize nominee and founder of World Central Kitchen – “We need shorter walls and longer tables.” I hope that recent virtual spring celebrations extended your table to reach friends, family, and neighbors in safe and reaffirming ways.
While remaining safely distanced, VEP students, tutors, and staff are working as close as ever to remain creative and focused during these challenging times. Here are just a few examples of such efforts:
Ron H. and his student prioritized the completion of the 2020 Census form early on in the pandemic. While often taken for granted in daily conversation by native speakers, they worked through the challenges of speaking on the phone to accomplish this time-sensitive task.
Anthony T. and his four students are working separately to apply for unemployment, search for interim employment, and find alternate solutions for stimulus checks that as tax-paying immigrants, they cannot qualify for.
Gerald G. and his recently matched student, a West Chester restaurant owner, were at first reluctant to have sessions on-line. Although the tutor has a background in IT, he was concerned that his student may not respond well to virtual learning. With some suggestions by VEP staff, he agreed to try and, as a result of their success, Gerald has volunteered to tutor additional VEP students on the waiting list, remotely.
Shannon A.’s student, a full-time working mother, now unemployed and coordinating high school studies at home for her learning-challenged son, described the current COVID experience by email…
“Sincerely, I need time to be with [my son]. We have had a very hard time understanding what he needs to do, where is the info, using new apps, and trying to think which ones are the priority, and trying to finish on time all of them. For me is hard because I don’t know too much about how to navigate the internet, and we receive all the homework at the same time from all of his teachers. It is like everything at the same time. Comparing with a volleyball, I feel like 8 people are throwing me 10 volleyballs at the same time, and I can hit just one.”
Every contribution to VEP will extend our reach and continue to provide for hundreds of students and tutors who remain faithful to their personal English instruction throughout these difficult times. As Señor Andrés says,”without empathy, nothing works.”
Thank you for your generosity toward the Volunteer English Program today and always.
April 3, 2020
We hope this week is finding you safe and healthy, continuing to adhere to the safety guidelines of our state and nation in these chaotic times. Please find at least a bit of ‘normalcy’ in that Volunteer English is fully up and running virtually and here to serve and support all of our tutors and students.
The following was forwarded by VEP tutor, Kathryn, from a church circulation. She feels that “Good things can be transmitted, too!” We hope that you agree.
Infectious disease epidemiologist focusing the dynamics of disease transmission, by Jonathan Smith, PhD en route at Emory University, Lecturer at Yale.
As an infectious disease epidemiologist (although a lowly one), at this point I feel morally obligated to provide some information on what we are seeing from a transmission dynamic perspective and how they apply to the social distancing measures. Like any good scientist I have noticed two things that are either not articulated or not present in the “literature” of social media. I have also relied on my much smarter infectious disease epidemiologist friends for peer review of this post; any edits are from peer review.
Specifically, I want to make two aspects of these measures very clear and unambiguous.
First, we are in the very infancy of this epidemic’s trajectory. That means even with these measures we will see cases and deaths continue to rise globally, nationally, and in our own communities in the coming weeks. This may lead some people to think that the social distancing measures are not working. They are. They may feel futile. They aren’t. You will feel discouraged. You should. This is normal in chaos. But this is normal epidemic trajectory. Stay calm. This enemy that we are facing is very good at what it does; we are not failing. We need everyone to hold the line as the epidemic inevitably gets worse. This is not my opinion; this is the unforgiving math of epidemics for which I and my colleagues have dedicated our lives to understanding with great nuance, and this disease is no exception. I want to help the community brace for this impact. Stay strong and with solidarity knowing with absolute certainty that what you are doing is saving lives, even as people begin getting sick and dying. You may feel like giving in. Don’t!
Second, although social distancing measures have been (at least temporarily) well-received, there is an obvious-but-overlooked phenomenon when considering groups (i.e. families) in transmission dynamics. While social distancing decreases contact with members of society, it of course increases your contacts with group (i.e. family) members. This small and obvious fact has surprisingly profound implications on disease transmission dynamics. Study after study demonstrates that even if there is only a little bit of connection between groups (i.e. social dinners, play dates/playgrounds, etc.), the epidemic trajectory isn’t much different than if there was no measure in place. The same underlying fundamentals of disease transmission apply, and the result is that the community is left with all of the social and economic disruption but very little public health benefit. You should perceive your entire family to function as a single individual unit; if one person puts themselves at risk, everyone in the unit is at risk. Seemingly small social chains get large and complex with alarming speed. If your son visits his girlfriend, and you later sneak over for coffee with a neighbor, your neighbor is now connected to the infected office worker that your son’s girlfriend’s mother shook hands with. This sounds silly, it’s not. This is not a joke or a hypothetical. We as epidemiologists see it borne out in the data time and time again and no one listens. Conversely, any break in that chain breaks disease transmission along that chain.
In contrast to hand-washing and other personal measures, social distancing measures are not about individuals, they are about societies working in unison. These measures also take a long time to see the results. It is hard (even for me) to conceptualize how on a population level ‘one quick little get together’ can undermine the entire framework of a public health intervention, but it does. I promise you it does. I promise. I promise. I promise. You can’t cheat it. People are already itching to cheat on the social distancing precautions just a “little”- a play date, a haircut, or picking up a needless item at the store, etc. From a transmission dynamics standpoint, this very quickly recreates a highly connected social network that undermines all of the work the community has done so far.
Until we get a viable vaccine this unprecedented outbreak will not be overcome in one grand, sweeping gesture, rather only by the collection of individual choices our community makes in the coming months. This virus is unforgiving to unwise choices. My goal in writing this is to prevent communities from getting ‘sucker-punched’ by what the epidemiological community knows will happen in the coming weeks. It will be easy to be drawn to the idea that what we are doing isn’t working and become paralyzed by fear, or to ‘cheat’ a little bit in the coming weeks. By knowing what to expect, and knowing the importance of maintaining these measures, my hope is to encourage continued community spirit, strategizing, and action to persevere in this time of uncertainty.
VEP advises all active tutors to NOT meet with students in person until further notice is received from VEP via direction from our local Commissioners and Health Department experts (CHESCO.org). This may be longer than first anticipated. However, we are already witnessing progress among students who are gaining valuable information and guidance from their tutors. VEP tutors are discovering creative ways to “instruct” new English language learners by phone, text, email, What’s App, and other forms of 21st Century communications.
Thank you for making Chester County a safe place to live and work!
Monday, March 23, 2020
Here are resources that we have learned about during the past two weeks:
Shelter in Place & What does this mean?: Sheltering in place means staying at home which is necessary to slow the rate of COVID-19 spread. People should stay in their homes unless they need to leave for “essential” activities and work.
For Health Care Updates: Local information can be found at chesco.org
Medical Reserve Corps: Opportunities for retired or inactive medical personnel to volunteer in their communities are part of new solutions. For more information visit https://www.chesco.org/Search?searchPhrase=Chester+County+Medical+Reserve+Corps
Open Hearth: VEP partners with Open Hearth. Their staff provide community support in areas of Housing, transportation and financial planning. https://www.openhearthinc.org/
SAMHA: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration are keenly aware that social and physical distancing is causing great distress. Our mental health is just as critical during this time. 24/7 Availability. Call 1-800-985-5990. Text “TALKWITHUS” to 66746. For Spanish speakers, Text “HABLANOS” to 66746.
For transportation needs: https://gis.penndot.gov/transitmap/.
For drug and substance abuse support: If you need assistance, call 1-800-GET-HELP (1-800-662-4357) or www.ddap.pa.gov
Good wishes for your health and peace of mind,
Terri Potrako, Executive Director
To reach any staff member by email: email@example.com
Feel free to share this link with all non-English language speakers, regardless of their association with VEP, so that they can access critical health and travel information in any one of 50 languages. Simply “Select the Language” icon at the top of the home page.
UPDATED: Friday, March 13, 2020
As an organization, VEP will be following the Chester County Commissioners’ guidance. VEP staff will be available by phone or email during the next two weeks. We will be exploring opportunities to conduct any scheduled meetings through virtual platforms. We advise that Tutors and Students not meet in person. Please consider the information below to protect your health and those around you.
First and foremost, if you have concerns or are aware of someone who has been traveling recently, don’t hesitate – view the following link for travel alerts and information. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/index.html
For general information and resources, view the Chester County Health Department to remain informed www.chesco.org/coronavirus
Please follow these precautions as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
- Stay home if anyone has respiratory symptoms (coughing, sneezing, shortness of breath) and/or fever of 100.4 F.
- Leave work, school or other occasions if these symptoms develop during your day.
- Shield coughs and sneezes with a tissue, elbow, or shoulder. Immediately dispose of any used tissues.
- Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use an alcohol based hand sanitizer.
- Avoid shaking hands to reduce risk of spreading infection.
- Limit your exposure to large crowds.
- If you have been exposed to the virus or have recently traveled, use self-imposed quarantined precautions of 14 days minimum and contact the Department of Health for further guidance.
Other suggestions that we think are part of keeping you healthy:
- Eat well.
- Drink plenty of water/fluids.
- Sleep well.
- Stay in touch with family and friends through Skype, phone calls, handwritten letters (just don’t lick the envelopes), emails, and FaceTime.
- Work or study from home whenever possible if your business can support this activity.
For Tutor and Student Instruction, consider the following guidelines:
- 3/13/2020 Suspended: Continue meeting in public places with your tutor or student as long as you are comfortable with the environment.
- Use common sense, don’t take unnecessary risks and be sure to communicate any changes to meet with your tutor or student.
- Agree to elbow-bump with others instead of shaking hands or hugging.
- Use Lysol or other antibacterial wipes on table tops and other surfaces before and after use.
- Don’t share pens, paper, workbooks, computer or phones with others during this time.
- Give others additional distance when speaking.
There are also ideas presented below that encourages remote language learning. Let’s be creative while being safe.
- Remember that VEP’s model of learning is adult focused. No one is terminated from the program when flexibility is required.
- Remember that language learning takes place every day in many ways.
- 3/13/2020 Suspended: Consider “safe” field trips and instruction in open-air settings when possible. Hopefully, the spring weather will be conducive to such outings.
- In place of weekly, person-to-person meetings, create opportunities for independent exercises and practice that a student can report on periodically or when you resume formal instruction.
- Consider that students often have trouble understanding English over the phone. Phone conversation can also be a lesson.
- Tutors, unless you plan on a formal break with your student, please keep your Tutor Portal status as ACTIVE. Log in any session hours weekly, or enter a ZERO even if you are not formally meeting.
- Students, consider using this time to create writing samples for VOICES Student Magazine or practicing English with your family.
Keep in mind that VEP staff:
- Are available by phone and email. Please contact us through these systems before stopping by the office (in case we are also working remotely).
- Will schedule new student intakes and matches/rematches in the future and on a case-by-case basis to reduce risk to all involved.
- Are exploring ways to conduct upcoming Peer-to-Peer Workshop sessions via Zoom Meeting platforms to maximize participation. Details and invitations will be sent separately.
These times require our creativity and commitment to one another. As Executive Director, I welcome your messages and suggestions as to how we can navigate these unusual times together. Thank you for sharing this information in ways and languages that protect everyone.
The staff and I look forward to speaking with you soon.
VEP Conversation Groups
Due to the COVID-19, Coronavirus health alert, many of our community partners and libraries are limiting access to facilities in the weeks ahead. Individual group facilitators will notify participants when groups begin again later this spring or summer. Thank you for your patience.
Our communities are enriched by the experiences and contributions of our students, tutors, volunteers and community partners. Thank you for your generosity!
VEP Students have been contributing to the VOICES Student Magazine since 2015. Click here for all current and past issues.
Phoenixville area resident and VEP student, Premisa Kerthi is coordinating upcoming issues of the magazine. Please send all submissions by email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
We will forward your articles and suggestions.