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Dec 19 2023

Volunteer Spotlight: Steve and Sherrill

Volunteer Spotlight

Steve and Sherrill Steininger

Steve and Sherrill Steininger are volunteers in our Project Connect program.

How long have you been volunteering with TLA?  

The Steinigers’ volunteering as a couple is unique to our program. Sherrill has been with The Literacy Alliance for seven and a half years after retiring in 2016. She started with a visit in early January and was in the classroom by early spring.  Steve has been with TLA for four and a half years.  He had previously volunteered in FWCS, assisting with the math bowl program.

Why did you decide to volunteer at TLA?             

Sherrill- “I have always been a reader. When considering tutoring adults, our daughter, who teaches 4th grade, said she could always use tutors for her students. However, I strongly believe that if the parents are literate, the children have a stronger chance of being literate.  I like working with adults who are more motivated. They have been out in life and realize that education and learning are important.”

Steve- “I joined because Sherrill had already begun with TLA. I could tell she really enjoyed it. I believe it started with a classroom visit and followed up with the volunteer coordinator.”

Anyone who has worked with the Steiningers can see how well they complement each other. Steve has the “dad humor”; he is witty and humorous in teaching, while Sherrill is there to help push students to expand their language skills and guide them.

What has been the best part of your experience so far?

Steve- “The thing that impresses me the most is getting to work with and becoming friends with people from all over the place. This program has people from many countries, and I think that is one of the things I enjoy most. I get to meet them and learn about their country and ways of life. Then, I get to help them reach their English goals. Meeting new students has been a real pleasure for me.”

Sherrill- “One of the first things that came to mind is the song “It’s a Small World After All.” Everyone has fears, especially in the day in which we live, and everyone has tears. But as soon as they come into the classroom, we see smiles. I see it over and over again. Smiles are universal; smiles signify friendship. Tutoring has broadened my horizons so much. I do not get caught up in the politics of building walls.  I want to help all our students succeed.”

Steve and Sherrill have befriended many students over the years and built long-lasting relationships with people. They have had dinner and game nights with former students and their spouses. They enjoy the friendships they have developed over the years.

Do you have a favorite volunteer role/task with our organization?  

Sherrill- “Learning our student’s stories. I felt naive, in a way, because I didn’t know that some people were only able to come to our country because of a lottery. Others came to escape persecution. All want a better life.

We have one student who is an Afghani refugee. She told us her story with tears of how she, her mother, and her father were able to leave, but not her brothers. Their family was part of those who evacuated quickly when our US Troops left Afghanistan. She explained that she was told, in her country, that she would not amount to anything. She comes from the only country in the world where girls are not allowed to attend school.

I also helped another student study to take her citizenship test. She passed, which enabled her to go to Mecca and return easily to the U.S.”

Steve- “Working with students in small groups. I really get to know them better that way. We sit down with one or two in small groups to work on grammar and reading or help them work on becoming the person they want to be here. The fact that they want to learn to speak fluently and if I can help in any way, that is the big thing for us.”

Steve and Sherrill have seen firsthand the appreciation of our Project Connect students striving to attain fluency in English to acclimate to a new culture. They have worked with students with physics, nursing, and medical degrees in their home country, but none of those credentials count when they arrive here. The student must be articulate in English to pronounce procedures and medications before they can use their education. So, for them, it can be like starting over in a new language.

What have you learned about yourself and others through volunteering at The Literacy Alliance?     

Sherrill- “I have learned that even though I am almost 78, I still have something to contribute. I have come to find how blessed I am that I grew up in this country, and English is my native language because it is hard to learn. We are constantly saying that this grammatical rule sometimes applies if it follows this letter, but if it is this letter, it does not. There are so many exceptions in the English language.  We were also blessed to be raised in homes where proper grammar and English were important. We were both encouraged to read. I believe that what you hear, have modeled for you, and observe daily greatly influences your life.”

Steve- “I feel so fortunate to have been born and raised here. I feel very blessed when I hear the stories of what some of our students have for-gone to come here. They work so hard to learn our language and get established in a different culture.”

 If you were to encourage someone else to volunteer with our organization, what would you say?

Sherrill- “Broaden your horizons and be open. Tutoring will expand your world if you are open to the experience. Coming in and observing is one of the best ways to start.”

Steve- “Come give it a try; you will fall in love with the students.”

Steve and Sherrill acknowledged that they may not remember all the rules they learned in school, but they know what sounds right and use correct grammar. They use their life experiences and knowledge to help students. And it is working well for them!

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