Lunch hour at my office is fairly routine. It’s usually leftovers or chicken noodle soup heated in the microwave.
But for the last few months, Monday lunches at the Volunteer Center have been different. Last fall, four Volunteer Center employees decided to do the obvious – volunteer. We signed up to help out at Lipscomb Elementary, a neighborhood school just five minutes from our office.
When we attended our first orientation, we weren’t sure what we were getting into. Would we work with 40 students at once? Would we have to remember the capital of South Dakota? Since 73 percent of Lipscomb’s students speak Spanish, would we have to speak Spanish?
Fortunately, the answer to each question was no. Communities In School, the non-profit organization working with Lipscomb students, needs volunteer tutors. The job description states a volunteer should have “basic knowledge and skills,” “be a good listener” and “serve as a caring adult friend.”
The job sounded like something I could handle so I took the next steps – completing an application and visiting the school. Minerva Manriquez, the CIS liaison at Lipscomb, told us about the school, asked our interests and matched each of us with students who needed extra help.
My first Monday as a volunteer tutor I was introduced to Marleny, a sixth-grader in Lipscomb’s bilingual program. For 45 minutes we sat in the library and talked. Since she speaks limited English and I speak no Spanish, it wasn’t easy, but we managed to communicate.
Since then, we’ve reviewed flash cards, read books and written sentences. We’ve studied adjectives, verbs, pronouns, food and weather. Marleny’s teacher says she “just needs practice” so practice is what we’ve done.
Sometimes we don’t use the materials provided. We just hang out and talk about her two younger brothers, computer class, weekend activities and favorite books. Marleny is a bright young woman – I’m not just saying that because I’m her tutor – and I truly enjoy spending time with her.
I can’t say that Marleny speaks English fluently, but I like to think we’ve made progress. She can speak to me in English about her native country, Honduras, and I’ve even learned a little Spanish.
Since I began working at the Volunteer Center, I’ve spoken to hundreds of people about the benefits of volunteering. Studies show one reason people volunteer is because it makes them feel good. Working with Marleny, I can confirm that fact first-hand. A burger and fries for lunch may be filling, but Monday lunches at Lipscomb are fulfilling.
Schools throughout our neighborhood are looking for volunteers who can give one hour a week as tutors. Call the Volunteer Center at 826-6767 for information or call one of these organizations directly: Communities in School, Kristen Castellanos, 827-0955; Dallas Public Schools, Rosemary Morice, 824-1620; Lipscomb Elementary, Minerva Manriquez, 841-5150; Richardson Independent School District, Dr. Herb Ruffin, 238-6698.
Your entire company can get involved as tutors, mentors, guest speakers and more when you adopt a school. For information, call Tagni Osentowski, coordinator of the Greater Dallas Chamber’s Dallas Partners in Education program, at 746-6783.