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Our Volunteers

Like most nonprofits, BRL is dependent on a strong network of volunteers. We rely on members of the community to further our mission by helping learners achieve their goals and improve their literacy skills. Whether it’s putting in hours at the library with a learner or spending a morning in the classroom as an assistant, our volunteers are an indispensable aspect of our operation. With this post, we wanted to shine a spotlight on some of this week’s volunteers to demonstrate the importance of their contributions.

Joan Childress has been volunteering at BRL for four years now, starting out as a tutor for a learner that she says she’s still friends with today. “We still get together and eat together,” she said. “She’s just added so much to my life.” Now she volunteers as a classroom assistant, coming to class on Thursdays to sit with learners, helping them understand lessons and complete activities. Joan says that the greatest part of the job is undoubtedly the people she gets to help. “Just to come to know them,” she stated, is her motivation behind volunteering.

Another of our volunteers is Ninon Hentz, a teacher for 35 years who wanted to continue her work in education after she retired. “I wanted to make sure I could still do some teaching in a different capacity and really make an impact,” Ninon said. “I wanted to do something where, even a small part of my week, I was helping somebody, was making a difference.” A volunteer at BRL for a little over a year now, Ninon spends Tuesday mornings as a classroom assistant and Friday afternoons tutoring. When asked what her favorite part of volunteering is, she had an answer ready. “I was telling someone that I look forward to Tuesdays because I smile all day. Because to see how hard [learners] are working and learning and to see their success…it’s wonderful.”

Liz Mortlock has been with BRL for two months, assisting ESOL learners in the classroom on Friday afternoons. For Liz, making people feel comfortable in new places is a matter of personal importance. “We lived overseas for 15 years. And that is why I’m here.” She said she lived in five countries and tried to learn the language of the new places she was in. “So my heart goes out to people who are new in a country and don’t have the language skills.” Liz also volunteers as a tutor for first graders at an elementary school two days a week, where she said she gained insight into the process of learning the intricacies of English. “It is so hard. And even sounding out words should be easy, like “fight” should be ‘fig-hit,’” she said. “I take it so for granted.” As someone whose first language is English, Liz tries to make simpler the many rules that govern the language so that learners can progress in their studies.

Although Diane Wiggins was a medical doctor for most of her career, her background includes degrees in English and a passion for literacy and learning that she pursues at BRL today. In addition to serving on BRL’s Board of Directors, Diane volunteers once a week teaching a citizenship class. While she only recently started instructing the course, she’s excited for her students to embark on the process of becoming a citizen. One, she suspects, will have their citizenship relatively soon. “Hopefully they’ll get theirs in the next few months and we’ll all get to go and celebrate,” she said. As far as interacting with the students, like Joan, Beth feels that the best part of volunteering is the learners. “They’re funny and they’re sweet and just dear, wonderful people. I wish that more people appreciated that.”

Beth O'Bractha was a teacher for 32 years before she began volunteering as a classroom assistant at BRL three years ago. She says that her motivation to teach ESOL stemmed from some of her experiences while traveling. “My family and I went to Hungary in 2007 and stayed for six months, and we were volunteers for Habitat for Humanity,” she said. “But I also did a lot of work in the high schools with the students who were in the highest levels of learning English.” Years later in 2015, she did some of the same work in Tanzania, sparking her interest to continue on the ESOL track by volunteering at BRL. Beth agrees that the aspect of volunteering she loves the most is the people she gets to work with. “Because I come two days a week, I’ve really gotten to know several of the [learners],” she explained. “That personal relationship like I used to have with my students is the reason I love it so much.”

Every week, volunteers like Joan, Ninon, Liz, Diane, and Beth give their time—both in and out of the classroom—to help our learners strengthen their literacy. By working to develop their skills in reading, writing, listening, and speaking, they form lasting relationships with students based on mutual learning. The commitment and dedication of all of our volunteers make possible the resources and programs we offer.

To learn more about volunteering and getting involved at BRL, click here.

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