Why I Teach Literacy- A Personal Testimonial

Participants of our multi-day tutor training for new tutors.

Why do you volunteer? We all have our stories, and here’s mine:

When I was 18, I was diagnosed with severe depression. I did not know, then, that depression would debilitate me for much of my adult life, nor that my diagnosis was incomplete. It would be decades before I found a doctor who helped me out of what were, in fact, bipolar troughs. But until then I somehow coped, though not always well or in healthy ways. Always, I was plagued by the existential question: “Do I even matter? Does anything I do in life make any real difference?”

In my 30’s, becoming a mother gave me a raison d’etre—a reason for being. But when my children grew up and went off to college, then married and moved out for good, I was utterly unmoored. Once again, I felt like I didn’t matter, despite the mental health I’d regained with the aid of excellent doctors.

What could I do? An unlettered housewife in her sixties who hadn’t worked outside the home in thirty years… Not many options open to me for employment!

Feeling helpless and useless, I once again fell back on unhealthy coping mechanisms—and wound up in a 12-step program. That program emphasized service as a fundamental element of wellness—and a recovery that sticks.

My first service job was setting up chairs for my support group. Then I took on coffee service. Then I became secretary of that meeting. But when my six-month stint as secretary was up, I was once again casting about—and hit on the Santa Cruz Volunteer Center in a Google search.

Immediately, Adult Literacy training appealed to me. It mattered not at all, evidently, that I didn’t speak Spanish, and moreover I’d be trained—for the simple cost of materials!

At the first training session, I learned that the Literacy Program has been in place for some 50 years. Indeed, everything about the program was (and remains) professional and very caring. I began to feel empowered to make a difference.

Soon I was assigned my first student, a native-Spanish speaker I will call Juana, who was highly motivated to learn. We studied in Juana’s home every week, and I left every lesson feeling good about the two hours we’d spent discussing the usage of at vs. to, or tell vs. say, or even what a bucket-list was. We covered a lot of ground, and we always, always had fun.

Juana learned quickly and within a year, took her US citizenship exam—and passed with flying colors. I can tell you from my heart that on the day of her swearing-in, I felt like I mattered—I had actually made a difference.

Nowadays I continue to work my 12-step program rigorously, do a lot of public speaking related to that program, and tutor English four hours a week. I have never felt more valuable to my community, nor more personally fulfilled.  The existential despair that once dogged me has been vanquished. I’m incredibly grateful to the Santa Cruz Volunteer Center for training me on how to make a difference, and for the results: my life the way it is now.

I hope to be an Adult Literacy Tutor for many years to come, and that there are at least a few more Juanas in my future.

Learn more about how you can too can make a difference and change lives through Literacy.

—Tutor X, February 2020 – We are so grateful to our Literacy Tutor for sharing this beautiful and heartfelt story.