Reflections of Grace, In Service
Mariam “Grace” Miner is the New American Pathways English at Home AmeriCorps Service Member. She helps ensure successful matches between volunteer tutors and new Americans, provides training and materials for tutors, and consistently checks in with ongoing matches for updates. Below, she talks about her experiences with the program, and provides insight on how English at Home works.
When I began my service as the English at Home AmeriCorps member at New American Pathways, I was very excited to begin a new journey into the world of refugee resettlement and eager to help make a tangible difference in people’s lives by connecting them to volunteer English tutors.
To be honest though, I also felt a bit daunted by the prospect of taking the reins from the previous AmeriCorps member. It takes a lot of effort to keep a program running smoothly. I knew that this position would require a lot of patience, organization, and energy. Since then, however, I’ve also learned how important it is to take a step back once in a while and admire the bigger picture. It can be easy to get bogged down with the day-to-day logistics. There are always volunteer orientations to schedule, English assessments to administer, and interpreters to track down. However, when I take a moment to think about all of the wonderful and fulfilling interactions I get to have with volunteers and new Americans alike on a daily basis, I remember why I do what I do.
During English at Home orientations, I get to meet with volunteers face-to-face for the first time. These volunteers are willing to dedicate the time and energy to tutor a new American student, in that student’s home, for two hours, once per week, for a minimum of three months. This is no small commitment, especially given the backgrounds of our volunteers. Many of them work full time and are parents to young children. Some live quite a distance from the cities in which their students are located. Regardless, many volunteer/student matches become fast friends, with some volunteers going above and beyond their original time commitment. I know that it can be difficult to maintain that level of dedication, but by donating so much of their time and energy, the volunteers in this program have shown me what it truly means to give from the heart.
Apart from the interactions I get to have with volunteers, meeting with new American students is one of my favorite aspects of this position. After volunteers go through the English at Home orientation, they select an English learner from a waiting list of students in need of a volunteer tutor. I then plan an initial meeting that works for everyone’s schedules (mine, the student’s, and the volunteer’s) and we all meet at the student’s home for an English assessment. This initial meeting is also usually the first time I ever get to meet the student face-to-face. I’ll admit, the idea of going into a stranger’s home was intimidating at first. I quickly found, however, that the new Americans served through New American Pathways could not be more gracious, welcoming, or thankful.
The new Americans served through English at Home, in particular, come from a wide range of countries: Somalia, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Bhutan, Congo, Burma, Sudan, and many, many more. Regardless of nationality, I always feel warmly received when I enter a student’s home (sometimes I’m even offered tea and food). It’s also wonderful to see how enthusiastic new American students are to have an opportunity to learn and practice English in their own homes. Many students are mothers of several children who have difficulty finding childcare. Others are busy, full-time workers who have difficulty getting to ESL courses because of their schedules. In those respects, they are not all that different from our volunteers. I’ve spoken with the husband of a student from Afghanistan who was eager to explain that his wife was very intelligent and hard-working, but simply needed an opportunity to receive an education, as she’d never been to school before. He was even willing to help her practice her English between tutoring sessions. Another refugee from Somalia explained, through her English-speaking daughter, that she was looking forward to becoming more independent and even receiving her driver’s license one day. Her volunteer tutor, a high school ESL teacher, told her that she was thrilled to have an opportunity to work with such an energetic and determined student.
I feel very privileged to hear these stories from our volunteers and students. When things get tough or overwhelming, I simply look to the example set by the volunteers and students in the English at Home program. Dedication, compassion, and kindness are all around us. They are not hard to find.
Interested in being an English at Home volunteer? Contact Teni-ola.