A to Z Challenge: V is for Volunteering

new Thursday class 10-2011Last fall I began volunteering for two incredible organizations here in Chicago: RefugeeOne and Literacy Chicago.

RefugeeOne is one of the organizations the State Department contracts with to settle refugees in Chicago. We do it all: welcome them at the airport, find them housing and all the stuff that goes in those houses. We help them learn how to speak English, navigate the city and find jobs. We also help them connect to social and health services. I love their mission statement: “We create opportunity for refugees fleeing war, terror, and persecution to build new lives of safety, dignity, and self-reliance.”

I volunteer in three areas. Last fall I helped Syrian refugees find jobs. RefugeeOne had quite the challenge last fall when several highly skilled Syrians started looking for jobs as contractors, electricians, plumbers and woodworkers. This is easier said than done in Chicago which is owned by the labor unions, and the path of journeymanship to to get into those unions takes two years and is expensive. Fortunately we were able to find some businesses which didn’t require union membership, and one business that even had employees who spoke Arabic! This spring I am an English as a Second Language (ESL) tutor. I’m helping a new group of Syrian refugees learn the language of their new home. I’ve also volunteered in the office helping to file and organize thank you letters for our extremely generous donors. If you want a great cause to get behind and support, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better organization than RefugeeOne.

Literacy Chicago is Chicago’s oldest literacy organization, and the woman who runs the whole she-bang is one of my favorite people: June Porter (AKA Miss June). Miss June KNOWS her stuff when it comes to Adult Literacy and ESL. She is one of those rare people who have mastered the art of tough love. She has a wonderful attitude of encouragement, but she doesn’t let any of her students sell themselves short and urges them on to greater heights in their literacy journeys.

Literacy Chicago offers classes for Adult Literacy Learners, people pursuing their GED and ESL students. To date I have been an ESL tutor, but I hope to work with GED students as well. One of my favorite things to do is read. (I’m one of those people who gets mad when you interrupt my reading, and think there is NOTHING more important to do than read a book and learn something new.) I also know how important reading and literacy are to make a living. When I decided I needed to start volunteering, literacy organizations were the first thing I researched because I knew I wanted to help people read.

I’ve also lived in another country and had to learn the language on the ground. I lived in Barcelona for nine months back in the late 1990s and learned Spanish while trying to navigate my way through public transit, grocery stores and outdoor markets. I know how hard that is, which is why I also wanted to be an ESL tutor. Again if you’re looking for a great organization to support, put Literacy Chicago on your list.

What about you? What causes are near and dear to your heart? Where do you volunteer?

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