Helpful. Excellent. Cooperative. Positive. Purpose. Words we all need right now. Words the participants use to describe Oakland Literacy Council’s (OLC) newest learning group.
This group of English language learners, led by OLC tutor Hannah Hilbert, works together to grow their professional skills – resumes, networking, interviewing, workplace culture, and more. It’s the first for Oakland Literacy Council on this topic. And one of the first groups to go virtual – they meet over Zoom every Thursday evening.
The timing could not have been better. The adult students are experiencing common frustrations of the pandemic. Lenise, originally from Brazil, wants to start looking for a job, but now “everything stopped.” For Sudha, a native of India, “24 hours staying home is difficult. It’s hard to manage kids and family.” Not being completely fluent in English yet, they feel an added layer of isolation during the shutdown.
It turns out the group is fostering more than professional skills. It is also fostering friendship. Sudha looks forward to sharing these 90 minutes each week with new friends. “It is very memorable and excellent for me.”
The facilitator, Hannah Hilbert, a regional business development specialist for Mercedes Benz Financial Services, has been an OLC tutor for 3 ½ years. Along with tutoring, she actively contributes to the OLC community at professional development, social, and fundraising activities. Her inspiration for becoming a tutor came from an “alternative spring break” experience in college. She spent the week in Georgia volunteering with an organization that assists refugees with resettlement, including learning English.
Hannah speaks Spanish, German, and Portuguese. The idea for the professional skills learning group came from her involvement with foreign language professional groups here in the Detroit area.
Heading into the first session with the new group, Hannah wasn’t sure what to expect. She was so pleased that “everyone clicked really fast and they were really interested in helping each other out.”
Each week, Hannah sends the students vocabulary lists and an assignment to prepare for the upcoming session. During the session, the group has time to socialize, share homework, give each other feedback, and review new lessons. For Takara from Japan, it has been helpful to learn to write a resume in “the American way” and understand the differences in work culture between the United States and her home country. Lenise appreciates learning all the new vocabulary needed to apply for a job. Sudha feels more prepared to introduce herself to prospective employers now that she has prepared an “elevator pitch.”
Abir, a native of Lebanon, is in the process of interviewing for jobs. She values this opportunity to improve the quality of her English. “All of us have hope to be more confident in English. Hannah gives us hope. Gives us motivation. [Hannah tells us], ‘Yes, you can do it! You’re going to do it! You’ll be fine.’ It’s a positive feeling.”
Talking to Hannah, it is clear the positive feeling goes both ways. “I feel like I am giving back to society, to the greater good. There were times when I felt lost in a foreign country because I couldn’t speak the language, and someone took me under their wing. Now I can pay it forward.”