A Tale of Two American Women- Celebrating Literacy

“The Literacy Program completely changed my life and my family’s life. When we learn English, we recover ourselves and our dignity.”- Karla

Are you, like me, saddened or outraged at the current treatment of immigrant children and families and the narrative that immigrants and asylum seekers are un-American?

As one of our Literacy Tutors put it, “I grew up revering that big statue that welcomes people to America. She represents something about us that is still meaningful to me.”

Her statement reminded me that the spirit of welcome still resonates with so many of us.

Like that statue, our tutors stand out as beacon of hope in what sometimes feels like a dark divide. Their actions speak volumes about the welcoming community we can achieve.

Our Literacy Program, like all of the programs at the Volunteer Center, was founded on the belief that we all have something meaningful to bring to the community table. Our Literacy Volunteers welcome our immigrant neighbors with open arms and walk with them on their journey as they learn the language and navigate our systems to educate their children, contribute to our economy, participate fully in our community, and work on the path to citizenship.

Let me share the stories of two young Americans who made their way to Santa Cruz. These women are separated by 80 years and their family roots reach back to different continents.

Karla, a mother of 4 had her latest child in the midst of her four year effort to become a US Citizen. Karla’s children served as her inspiration as she stuck with the arduous process of studying, interviews, and paperwork while also managing work and family life. Earlier this year, with the support of her Literacy Tutor, she achieved her citizenship.

“The Literacy program completely changed my life and my family’s life. When we learn English, we recover ourselves and our dignity.”– Karla

Thora’s family came to the US when she was  just five years old, seeking a chance to own a home and have a better future for their children. She vividly remembered the challenge of having to translate for her mother as a child. This memory along with a deep empathy for those brave enough to step out of their comfort zone to learn English, inspired Thora to serve as a champion volunteer with the Literacy Program for nearly 30 years until her passing.

As I listened to Thora’s daughter Barbara, who is now our Board President, talk about her Mom’s motivation to give back as a lifelong volunteer with our Literacy Program and our newly sworn-in Citizen Learner Karla speak about how the program changed her life; I realized that these women and their families were living the same story. It is the American story I heard from my grandparents. It is the story shared by every American family who is not from First Peoples’ Ancestry or the descendant of Slaves.

At the Volunteer Center, we believe actions speak louder than words. In celebration of Adult Education and Family Literacy Week, we are reaching out to every person who shares this vision of America to take action to provide support to a local family today. We have a long waiting list and are looking for people enroll in our next volunteer training, donate to support our work with over 200 local families and volunteer in our offices.

Together, we can show our immigrant neighbors that the American values of welcome, diversity, and community are alive and strong here in Santa Cruz County.

Donate to the Literacy Program

Learn More About Volunteering with the Program


Blog Post Written by Volunteer Center Executive Director Karen Delaney.  Karen has led the Volunteer Center for more than 30 years and is an internationally recognized leader, trainer and speaker in the field of volunteerism, community building and nonprofit management. Karen’s formula for success is “hope, fun, curiosity, gratitude, belief in people and good data.”

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