Donna Ioppolo: Aquinas Literacy Center, Chicago
I volunteer at Aquinas Literacy Center in the McKinley Park neighborhood of Chicago two full days a week since starting in September 2018. The Aquinas Literacy Center is sponsored by the Adrian Dominican Sisters and has been serving the neighborhood since 1996.
The mission of the Aquinas Literacy Center is to empower adults by providing basic literacy and life skills through individualized tutoring, in environments that respect and reverence individuals. While the majority of the students come from Spanish-speaking countries, there is a significant number of Chinese- and Arabic-speaking students as well as some who speak a variety of other languages. Through one-on-one tutoring, supported with conversation classes, writing workshops, book clubs, computer learning opportunities, and job assistance workshops, learners are able to improve their English-language literacy and achieve their personal goals. The staff at Aquinas instruct new tutors in ESL teaching methods that have shown success over many years.
I serve as a tutor for ninety-minute weekly sessions to four women ranging in age from mid-twenties to early-sixties—three on Mondays and one on Thursdays—who are studying in three different levels of English learning. Along with basic English literacy, we talk about daily life skills such as communicating with a child’s teacher or with medical professionals for doctor’s appointments. In addition I lead a drop-in language and vocabulary class on Thursday mornings attended by as many as twelve students. I often can use my experience in library work to direct students to additional sources of English language learning. Many of the students have completed high school in their home countries and some have college credit; it is their English language skills that hold them back from finding meaningful work.
An unexpected addition to my direct work with individuals has been the growing knowledge of some of the poorer areas of Cicero and Chicago which I encounter on my travel to and from Aquinas. I have learned to see with new eyes men and women who sleep outdoors overnight, those who are living on the streets looking for food, and many who do not have any of the advantages of living in a modern, urban environment. I am humbled by my inability to find solutions to everyone’s problems, and use my commute as a time of deep reflection and prayer for all of the disadvantaged people in our communities.
Mary Claytor: Family Focus, Aurora
I volunteer at Family Focus in Aurora. It is a Chicago based non-profit dedicated to supporting and strengthening families in and with their communities. Some of the programs offered are early childhood home visitation, parenting classes, after school programming, ESL classes, and immigration services. I work with DACA clients, provide mentoring to the after-school program and am laying the foundation to start an ESL class.
I am amazed at the spirit of the people who walk through the door. They have so many obstacles in their path, yet they keep trying for a better life for themselves and their children. Their hope is palpable.
The staff truly love what they do. They are committed to showing compassion to every person. Their patience and kindness overwhelm me at times. No matter the request, they try to help make life easier for another.
Bill Kniest: Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center, Waukegan
My volunteer site is at the James Lovell Federal Health Care Center in North Chicago. It is the only federal health care center in the country and is comprised of the North Chicago VA Hospital and the medical facilities for the Great Lakes Naval Base. I assist vets with the VA’s online personal health record known as My Healthe Vet. which helps the veteran in managing their healthcare. Registration, instruction on navigating the site, and helping recall user ID’s and passwords are part of the duties that fall under this assignment.
When I started at Lovell, I wasn’t sure about my assignment, and then I stumbled upon St Alphonsus Rodriguez, SJ. He was a Jesuit brother and door keeper at a college in Spain for 45 years in the early 17th Century. He experienced many trials during this time, but whenever someone knocked on the door he would reply “I’m coming, Jesus.” I have come to see that although it is not “heroic,” what I’m doing does help people.
Recently, the position has evolved into a sort of concierge service where we assist whoever comes to the desk in finding who or what they’re looking for in the hospital. My Healthe Vet is still our main purpose. But irregardless of the duties in the past six-and-a-half years I am always challenged to see Christ in others.
Read more volunteer profiles in the archives.