Sunday, February 1, 2004

Riverside County Library

Reading, writing English
Volunteers help people of all ages improve their skills through programs at county libraries
Desert Sun: January 17, 2004 by Nelsy Rodriguez

Gerardo Garcia was at the Indio branch library checking out some books when he noticed a group of people practicing the pronunciation of English words.

Curious, Garcia asked what was going on. It was an adult literacy class, he learned.

The literacy classes he had been taking at College of the Desert were demanding too much from his family time, the Indio man said, so he took down the information for the free classes.

He went at night when he could spare the time and worked out the foreign words until they didn't feel so forced. He even got a little tutoring in math.

Just recently, the 35-year-old man who came from Mexico four years ago earned his General Education Development certificate.

"They help us plenty to write, read and use vocabulary," Garcia said in Spanish. "The truth is, it has helped me a great deal."

The Riverside County Library Literacy Programs offer adult literacy and families for literacy programs at 10 local library branches.

"We have everything from basic English to conversational skills," said Sherry Martinez, Coachella Valley site supervisor. "Everything from how to write a check and work with forms to map reading."

The classes are free to anyone interested and each library has its own schedule of classes.

The sessions are run by volunteers who practice reading and pronouncing words with the students on an individual basis or in a group.

The program's success is dependent on the volunteers who make it happen.

People like Sally Shampine, a retired La Quinta woman who is one of about 85 volunteers in the Coachella Valley county library system.

"I didn't want to become a couch potato," Shampine said. "I could probably have slept all day and sat at home eating bonbons but I didn't want to do that."

Shampine is in her second year of volunteering two to three times a week in the desert.

She said she's worked with children and young adults, adults and people with learning disabilities.

"It's wonderful when you see something good's happening," Shampine said.

"You just have to not have any set ideas, be flexible because things don't always go the way you thought they were going to be going."

Shampine remembered how hard it was once to teach a dyslexic student but she said volunteering fulfills her.

And she's ready to help in any way she can.

"They kind of just point me to somebody or a group of people," she said. "We talk about words and what they mean, just whatever they need me to do."

Martinez said the program recently received a grant that may make it possible to add some English as a second language classes.

That would take more volunteers too, she said.

"We can always use more to help instructors," she said.

Martinez said while a teacher works with the bulk of a class, a teaching assistant could work with three or four individuals who may be struggling.

She said this method would greatly benefit the learning atmosphere as students could get more personal attention.

Volunteers to the program undergo a three-hour training seminar where they learn the techniques used by the program.

Martinez said the lessons rely primarily on written material, flash cards and scripts students can use to rehearse conversations.

She said volunteers who have a preference as to whether they would like to work with a group or an individual are likely to be accommodated.

The classes are drop-in for both the students and tutors.

Shampine said she likes the freedom of the schedule and prefers the group setting more than individual help because it frees her from obligation.

"When you're working with someone one on one it's like a commitment that you have to be there," she said. "I might miss and feel like I'd be letting them down."

When she does go she expends her energy and patience to help people like Garcia accomplish their goals.

"With what they've shown me I've learned a lot and it helps me at work," Garcia said.

"While I have time in the evenings I'm going to keep going, and I've also invited people I know to go," he said.

The Riverside County Library Literacy Programs offer adult literacy and families for literacy programs at the following library branches: Mecca, Coachella, Indio, Thousand Palms, La Quinta, Palm Desert, Cathedral City and Desert Hot Springs.

For information about taking a class, or volunteering to help teach one, call 342-2580