The Oakland Literacy Council is seeking a Digital Literacy Coordinator. This part-time position will lead a new effort to enhance digital literacy in Oakland County particularly in the City of Pontiac. For more information, see the job description.
They were born three decades apart. Their lives cross three continents. Yet tutor Don Haffner and student Esayas Tasew share so much in common.
Both have dedicated their lives to helping people. Don worked in the Peace Corps teaching English in Korea. He lived in Korea for a total of 15 years, continuing to teach English at schools and U.S. military bases. When Don later returned to Detroit, he produced books for blind and dyslexic people. Don now teaches world history at Oakland Community College.
Esayas immigrated from Ethiopia three years ago, joining family already in the Detroit area. He leads a congregation of 50 parishioners at St. Mary Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church in Ferndale. Esayas’ wife and young son still live in Ethopia. He looks forward to the time when they can join him in the United States.
Both enjoy talking about current events and learning about each other’s countries and cultures. Don reads BBC and Reuters every day. Whenever he finds an article about Ethiopia, he makes a copy to read and discuss with Esayas. Don explains, “It is interesting for the student because it is their country but also shows that I am interested in his country, not just the other way around.”
Don also has a chance to get a deeper understanding of Ethiopia. “He [Esayas] knows more about it than what is in the article.”
Esayas is an eager learner, with the goal to learn English well enough to attend an international theology school. Prior to the pandemic, the pair were meeting up to four hours a week at the Ferndale Library – twice the required weekly hours. Once the library closed, Esayas and Don tried to meet over Zoom, but Esayas doesn’t have a strong Internet connection and finds the computer challenging.
Don and Esayas have found a new way to meet. Don prints and leaves study materials in Esayas’ mailbox every few weeks. Then they have phone meetings twice a week.
While the arrangement might not be ideal, it is working. Esayas is grateful to Don: “He is my prize, my light.”
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.”
Oakland Literacy Council hosted a free webinar for parents, grandparents, and anyone helping children learn during the Covid-19 shutdown. Felicia Geeter, language arts instructional coach and OLC testing coordinator, shared online resources to educate and engage children — from English and math to virtual field trips.
View the presentation and resource list here:
Join Librarian Devon Green for a Chat and Chew Online discussing Michelle Obama’s memoir Becoming this Wednesday April 8th at 2 pm. Register at https://zoom.us/meeting/register/uJ0pc-2uqDMiUlD7nXkmIt4TQ3teiu5KoA