What happens when you send 20 people to work with young English Language Learners through United Way’s AmeriCorps program? These are their stories.
United Way’s North Shore AmeriCorps Program mobilizes a team of members to serve and support students who identify as English Language Learners – students whose first language is something other than English – across Lynn and Salem, Massachusetts. As they wrap up their year of service this month, they gathered to share their stories.
The students range from a young child whose family just moved to the United States from Vietnam and speaks no English, to a high school teen refugee from Somalia who left his friends, family and all that is familiar for the chance at an education and opportunity.
They are the students who are most vulnerable to falling behind, becoming frustrated, and facing an insurmountable achievement gap. But with their own resilient spirit and determination, along with that of their AmeriCorps members, together they are beating the odds and achieving their dreams.
Mike Pigatti, Metro North YMCA, Lynn
“My story is one that I did not expect. When I started my service with AmeriCorps, I was thrust into a position unlike any other I had ever experienced – going from an office job to working with children was a great leap of faith.
Over the past several months, I have encountered some of the greatest and most interesting individuals that I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. They came from all walks of life, each one different than the other, and that is what makes them great. Oh, and did I mention, that most of them are less than twelve years old?
When I first started working one child, he could hardly read or write a word in English, having been in the country less than two months. After months of hard work, he is now able to write sentences and have full conversations in English without much help from me. When I think about how far he has come, it brings me great joy.
And his story is just one of many that I could tell.”
Allie Armour, Girls Inc. of Lynn
“Teresa and Juana are just two examples of how rewarding and instructional my year of service at Girls Inc. of Lynn has been. I have helped my students to learn important lessons each day about both language and life, and they have taught me countless new skills in return. I have learned to build enthusiasm from anxious participants, to incorporate lessons into games, to listen closely and empathize rather than trying to fix every situation, and to celebrate little victories along the long road to improvement.
Girls Inc. of Lynn has come to feel like an extension of the sisterhood that’s always been so crucial for me. I chose to serve because I can never do enough to say thank you. I serve because Girls Inc. feels like home and one can never have too many sisters.”
Diana Vasquez, La Vida Scholars, Lynn
“I was part of the La Vida Scholars while in high school and they helped me get to college. So when I saw an opening for United Way’s AmeriCorps member at a time where I felt lost, I knew it was a sign.
My students have taught me just as many lessons as I’ve taught them. Through working closely with them, I have built some trusting relationships. My students have really shown me (in their own way) what it is to feel appreciated. I cannot think of a better way to describe my service.
I serve for the community that is often overlooked. For the one that lacks funding and resources for its youth. As a product of you, I serve.”
Tiffany Walker, New American Center, Lynn
“At the New American Center in Lynn, I provide social-emotional and academic support to English Language Learners in grades 1-12. Not only are my students ELL students, but most of them are also refugees. And yet, despite their individual sufferings, I have learned far more about hope and humanity from the New American Center than I ever thought I could. There are a few individuals in particular who have been my greatest teachers.
One such student is a 20 year old African Muslim woman in her senior year; Libyan born but Sudanese in culture. In 2011, her family fled back to Sudan after surviving bombardments on their village in the outbreak of the Libyan Civil War. The very first time I worked with her, we had a very heartfelt conversation about how we do not get to chose where and when we are born. Of her own intuition, she said “Miss, I think maybe you were born here so that you could be here to do this…to help us.” I think so too.”
Blanca Rojas, Lynn Vocational & Technical High School
“My students constantly amused me. For example one of my students told me on Mother’s Day “ Miss, Feliz Dia de las Madres” (Miss, Happy Mother’s Day). I was surprised and asked him “Why are you telling me that? I’m not a mom yet.” He told me “but, you have been like a mom to all of us.”
After these beautiful words, I smiled and I realized that I was making a difference in people’s lives.”