In Other Words
The official newsletter of the Volunteer English Program
Volume 31, Issue 2
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Meade
A student describes how learning English has changed her life and given her a newfound confidence.
I am from Mexico. I live in western Chester County, Pennsylvania. I like to live in this area because the area where I live is quiet. I started with the VEP three years ago, since I started learning English. My life has changed in many ways. For example, when I go to the store, I don’t need help. Before I used to check the way so that I didn’t have to talk to anyone for fear of not understanding English or knowing how to ask for answers. In my children’s schools, I always needed a translator to be able to ask questions about my children’s education. Now I no longer need someone to help me because I understand and can express what I want to know.
English has not been easy; it is very difficult for some to learn if we live in this country to be able to reach our goals. I feel good being independent to communicate with people at work, in stores, at schools, anywhere it is important to know English. I can also help when someone does not understand English or Spanish. What matters is to be helpful and friendly. My goal is to learn more English with patience to achieve all my goals and also to be able to help other people who need to learn English in the Future.
I hope I am setting the example always to help others to follow or take a good path. I am thankful for being in VEP and also for my teacher, Mr. Derek.
Shannon Almquist, recipient of VEP’s first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award, speaks about what the organization means to her and to our community.
Things always have a beginning— and most good things begin with somebody’s dream. June Hamilton had the dream that we ought to be able to help newcomers to America learn English. Many of us at Calvary Lutheran Church enthusiastically answered her call and that was the genesis of the Volunteer English idea.
You might well ask, why don’t students just go to the local community college and take an ESL course? And that brings me to what I treasure about Volunteer English— that it is one-on-one, personal mediation and intervention to change the life of an individual. What could be more of a privilege to be a part of than that? I can’t think of anything. The idea that students decide what their goal is, and we choose materials based not only on their skill level but their goal, means that every tutor is fashioning an individualized education plan for their student. So, for the Japanese woman who wanted to get her driver’s license, we used the driver’s manual. Nobody in ESL says “Oh, the perfect textbook would be the driver’s manual.” But if that’s your goal, that can be your textbook.
That kind of thing thrills me; that we are tailoring what we do to the individual. In this day and age, when people sometimes feel like they’re not seen, or they’re not heard— for them to be with a person who says ‘I see you, I hear you, I see your need, I’m lucky enough to be in a position to help.’ I don’t think it gets much better than that.
35th Anniversary Celebration
VEP’s signature spring fundraising event, An Evening of Inspiration, was held virtually on Thursday evening, June 24, 2021. Leon Spencer, Jr., Board Chairman of the Franklin Mint Federal Credit Union and former Mayor of Kennett Square, emceed the evening which featured a live interactive conversation with Helena Ku Rhee, a corporate attorney and author from Los Angeles. Ms. Rhee, author of the children’s book, The Paper Kingdom, shared how she was inspired by her immigrant parents as well as her travels around the world.
Guests joined the event early for an informal Zoom meet and greet with other participants and listened to the accomplished WCASD Senior Strings, conducted by Katrina Kelly, performing the symphonic work Perseus, by Soon-Hee Newbold, a female composer who was born in South Korea and grew up in Maryland. The virtual event also featured remembrances of friends Betsy and Bob Hawkes and a celebration of Shannon Almquist, Lifetime Achievement Award recipient for her 35-year commitment to VEP.
Featured Speaker Helena Ku Rhee
The Paper Kingdom (Penguin Random House 2020) is based on Ms. Rhee’s childhood, during which her parents worked as night janitors and had to take her to work due to lack of childcare. In a deserted office building, they turned drudgery into magic for their young child (complete with dragons and a magnificent kingdom filled with paper). The story weaves subtle commentary about the haves and have-nots and speaks directly to many of the same struggles experienced by VEP students.
Ms. Rhee, recently featured as a guest on NPR, shared her journey as a first-generation American woman as well as her passion for writing children’s books, screenplays and articles for publications such as the Los Angeles Times, New York Times and Salon. As a VP at Sony Pictures by day, she dreams up story ideas in her spare time.
35 Days for 35 Years Challenge
The 35 Days for 35 Years Challenge was a great first-time fundraiser for VEP. During the months of May and June, friends completed personal challenges for close to five weeks. Some chose to repeat the same activity, creating new health habits; others did something different each day. Whether writing a letter to one friend, walking a mile, cooking a new meal or reading ten pages, together we focused on bettering ourselves or the world around us in honor of VEP’s 35 years of service. Through $35 donations to VEP, generous participants made a lasting, life-long improvement in the lives of individuals and their families for generations to come.
Thank you to the following leadership sponsors for their generosity toward our $35,000 goal:
William Lalicker & Melanie Kisthardt
Shirley & Everett Warren
Bonnie & Jim Friedman Family
Lutz & Travers, PC
Mrs. Helen O’Grady
Reformation Lutheran Church of Media
Stored Energy Concepts
The VEP Board of Directors
Friends of VEP
Capacity for Change
Mary Anne Noel & Phil Friedman
Liz & Chuck Maser
Peer to Peer Workshops
While we’re all highly anticipating a return to pre-2020 ways of interacting, a surprising side effect of our move into the virtual sphere has been the ability to engage with each other in new and innovative ways. Over the past year, VEP’s Peer-to-Peer Workshops have continued to connect new and experienced tutors in a highly interactive forum, affording us the chance to be in sync with colleagues even at a distance. Together with professional staff coordinating topics and speakers, these workshops underscore the tremendous wellspring of talent and dedication in our organization: in trying times our greatest resource is— and has always been— each other.
Topics such as the U.S. Citizenship preparation, Writing across the Continuum, and Translanguaging are just a few slated for upcoming workshops.
Meredith Loving Connections Fund
Meredith Huffman was a passionate supporter of VEP, as was her mother and former tutor, Sharon. Meredith’s philanthropic vision included championing organizations and people who focused on community service and charity. Through her professional guidance, Meredith helped VEP to think far into the future, to prepare for ideas that had not yet been conceptualized. In 2016, she asked VEP to “think beyond ourselves and envision ways in which we could ensure that VEP would be available for new English speakers 30 years out, in the year 2046.”
The Meredith Loving Connections Fund was established in 2017 upon Meredith’s final battle with cancer through a seed gift from Capacity for Change. Since then, VEP has received many single and recurring contributions with the intention to share such funds with students.
We are now able to extend support beyond tutoring to adult learners in their search for meaningful employment, citizenship, professional credentialing, and other personal goals that result from their commitment to learning English. Active students who have been meeting with a tutor for at least 12 months may learn more about this financial opportunity here. To donate to the fund, visit www.volunteerenglish.org/donations.
Dollar General Literacy Foundation
The Dollar General Literacy Foundation recently awarded VEP a $5,500 adult literacy grant to support the purchase of instructional books and online resources for VEP students and tutors. This local grant is part of the Dollar General Literacy Foundation’s recent award of $10.5 million supporting summer, family, and adult literacy programs, representing the organization’s largest one-day grant donation in its 28-year history.
One of the hallmarks of VEP is offering students and tutors access to a wide range of research-based, proficiency leveled books and online resources. VEP staff strive to keep instructional materials current to reflect 21st Century themes, images, and concepts. Books and online materials provide a holistic approach to language and literacy instruction, including reading, writing, phonetics, grammar, pronunciation, and workplace development, that complement the current hybrid learning environment.
Books are essential in supporting volunteer tutors as they begin their tenure as instructors and in helping students improve their English proficiency to ultimately reach their language goals. VEP is able to provide services and offer instructional materials to adult English language learners for free because our work is supported through philanthropy, including grants like this one from the Dollar General Literacy Foundation.
Community Fundraisers Benefit VEP
Men’s Doubles Tennis Tournament
The 2021 Chester County Open, a men’s doubles tennis tournament organized by TT Krishnagopal along with other residents of Chester County in association with Pennypacker Country Club and Tennis Addiction, took place over two weekends in August, with over $6,000 in proceeds and 700 pounds of food supporting the Volunteer English Program and the Chester County Food Bank.
Thirty-nine teams took part, playing highly competitive tennis on days when the temps on the court neared 100+ degrees. In the end, two teams prevailed. Runner-up trophies were presented to Patrick Carretas & Paolo Quimbo with the Grand Prize trophy, gift certificates, and bragging rights bestowed upon a father and son duo, Joe Muoio & Matt Muoio.
“My earliest memory of tennis was seeing my grandfather play at the age of 90 using his homemade racket. His passion and dedication made a lasting impact on me. Down the years of playing tennis, I have come to see the many ways in which sports can benefit the community. I started off by donating tennis balls to the underprivileged in India since 2010 with the help of Tennis Addiction. My dream has always been to give back to the local community, and this turned into reality with the support of like minded people and sponsors in shaping this tournament benefiting a wonderful charity.” — TT Krishnagopal, Tennis Tournament Chair
Kimberton Whole Foods Rounding Up at the Register
Kimberton Whole Foods in Downingtown has selected VEP as the beneficiary of its August Rounding Up at the Register program, which gives shoppers the opportunity to give back to a local nonprofit in their community every time they visit Kimberton Whole Foods in Downingtown. Shoppers have the option to round up to the nearest dollar upon check out, and the difference will be donated to VEP. Customers can opt to donate more upon checkout if they wish, and Kimberton Whole Foods will match all donations.
Board of Directors
VEP welcomes two new Board members: Dr. Leigh Ann Ranieri, Director of Pupil Services, WCASD, and Kathleen Murphy, retired Director of Talent Management for Nemours Children’s Healthcare System.
We would also like to extend our gratitude to two departing Board members for their service and commitment to VEP. Carol Robinson, First Vice President and most recently Secretary, broadened VEP’s outreach to regional Rotary Clubs, school district partners, and many supporters. Her impact as a tutor and director will be felt for a long time.
Kevin McFarlane, Fulton Bank branch manager, succeeded fellow bankers, including Fulton Bank VP Mike Reese, for his three-year term on the finance committee. Kevin was instrumental in assisting VEP to secure valuable PPP funds early in the COVID-19 pandemic.
If you would like to get involved as a future member of the Board of Directors, please email VEP’s Governance Chair, Valerie Rozek at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Working Together to Get Vaccinated
Being vaccinated prevents more serious complications from the COVID-19 virus and unexpected variants. It will be the difference for many of VEP’s students and tutors who want to meet in person for English instruction in the months ahead. This past spring, when a student and his wife got their COVID-19 vaccines, their tutor Eva was there to help them navigate the process. “I went with them to the first appointment and helped with the paperwork. I offered to go to the second appointment, and C. (name withheld for privacy) said I didn’t have to. But I felt compelled to go and was glad I did. There were a few additional forms that they needed help filling out before they could proceed. He later told me that they probably would not have gotten the second shot if I wasn’t there to help them.”
Please share this link to the Chester County Health Department for the most current information about vaccine distribution.
Are you eligible to make a Qualified Charitable Distribution in 2021?
If you are 72 or older, and interested in supporting VEP through a qualified charitable distribution (QCD), please contact your financial advisor to arrange your gift before December 31st. With the passage of the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act of 2015, the QCD is now a permanent part of the IRS Code. This means you can plan your charitable giving and begin reviewing your tax situation earlier each year (source: Fidelity Investments at Fidelity.com). Your charitable gift this year will make a lasting impact on a student’s life.
**If you would like to contribute a topic or article for an upcoming issue, please email email@example.com with the subject line “IOW.”