“The engagement with humanity is very powerful,” Tony Albrecht says. “My service is a gift.”
Tony Albrecht has taught at the Spanish Catholic Center of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington for 10 years as an Ignatian Volunteer. He teaches basic construction math and English as part of the pre-apprenticeship program for green building. He also works collaboratively with staff in program development and planning for the course.
The courses are ten to twelve weeks and enroll about 20 students who come from a diverse range of backgrounds and nations, including some who are native to Washington DC. Topics include job readiness, resume writing, and a core curriculum which includes safety, math, blueprint reading, and materials handling among other topics. The classes are rigorous, and there are seven tests to pass.
“It’s energizing. Gradually you hear the stories of what participants’ lives are like. When I hear that, before coming to class, they dropped children off at school, or cleaned offices at night until 4 am and then came to class, I remind myself that I have a big responsibility. We all want to have a job that means something.”
“I try to emphasize that one of the great things about the class is that it can become a mini-community, a safe space for learning,” Tony says. “The social, moral dynamics of the class are important to me. For example, one course had a group of African students and a bunch from Central America. They were wary of each other. One day when there was bad weather and schools were closed, one of the guys from Africa brought in his six-year-old son. The Central American students melted. They were one community from then on. It was just a little kid, but the basic humanity was finally shining through.”
“He has a knack for community-building,” adds Julia. “The class distinctions, racial distinctions, melt away under Tony’s tutelage. I’m just amazed.”
Tony continues, “Each class is a challenge, because there are so many different educational levels within the class. One student, after the class ended, said, ‘You’re the only teacher I ever had’. It almost brings tears to my eyes remembering that. Another man came up to me and said ‘Thank you for your teaching. Don’t worry, I’m just slow. I will get it, just be patient with me.’ I’d go to the mat for that guy.”
“At the end of the last session, they finished their test and I announced that it was the last class. A big, tall guy from Togo gets up, and suddenly he became the class spokesman. ‘We thank you,’ he says, in French. ‘You were like a father for us.’ A few weeks later he sent me a follow up email, a New Year’s greeting, with some great pictures that he’d taken of me teaching.”
“That’s an incredible reward to get. One thing like that every six months charges my battery. I can internalize something like that.”