Claudia was born in California, but spent a significant portion of her life in Mexico. Now, her husband works in the oil fields, and she takes care of their two children, Cesar and Evelyn, who were also born in California. She came to Pennsylvania two years ago to join her husband and their children, and worked for a while in an Early Head Start preschool. She hopes to improve her English enough to be able to work – she especially likes working with kids, but it’s not too much of a preference. She likes to take her children to the park, and practice her English at home with them.
Sue moved to the US from Turkey seven years ago, and met her husband in the US. Now, her husband owns a pizza shop in Moundsville, WV, and she works there with him. They lived in Wheeling for the first five years they lived in the U.S., but Sue had a difficult time making friends there because of her English skills, and she started to get bored. They moved to Pennsylvania to be closer to their Turkish friends. Sue found out about classes at the Literacy Council when she tried to get a job at the library to improve her english, and they referred her here. Sue would like to be able to one day go back to the job she had in Turkey, working as a lab technician. She also likes to paint!
My name is Xiaoling and I am originally from China. I have been an American now for 3 years and I have been taking English classes for about that same amount of time! I love ESL class and the tutors who have been able to help me so much. I am able to go shopping by myself, order food at restaurants, work at my job, and use English confidently. When I first came here, I couldn’t speak English at all. Now, I am independent, I have my American driver’s license and a great job. I am very thankful!
Juan was an assistant manager of a restaurant in Mexico City when he decided to move to the United States in 2004. He found work in California, but a few years later he moved with a friend to Indiana, PA., where, at a neighbor’s house, a small group of Spanish speakers who wished to learn English gathered with people hoping to learn Spanish. That’s where Juan met Gretchen, then a student at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
Juan and Gretchen were married and now have two children. Juan has been studying English in the literacy council’s ESL program for more than a year now. “I am understanding more” he said. “It has helped me a lot. My mother-in-law says my English is much better.
Kim was a journalist in Vietnam. She worked hard while raising her two sons. All of her hard work paid off; they are both engineers now. Kim reconnected with her husband years after they first met. Eventually they were married and Kim moved to the United States to be with him. Shortly after arriving in Washington County, Kim realized that she needed to learn to speak English. When asked why she is attending English classes at the literacy council Kim said, “I want to learn because I want to understand this country. I want to have friends and work. I would not be able to learn English without the Literacy Council. The teachers here are very good and I am very happy.”
Eleven months ago Ha married an American citizen and moved from Vietnam to America. Upon her arrival in America, Ha found it very difficult to communicate. She is happy with her move but realizes that, “With a new life, you need to communicate with everybody.” Ha owned a bridal shop in Vietnam and would love to open one here, but needs to learn English first. Four months ago her husband found the literacy council and arranged for Ha to start classes. At first Ha thought “free equaled not good,” but she was quickly surprised. She loves that she not only learns how to speak English, but also the culture and the way people think. She “loves the environment of the classes and views the students as family.”
Thierry began his career as an IT worker in France for 18 years. When his spouse was transferred to the United States; Thierry and their young son followed. Thierry came to the US with no knowledge of English and obtained a job as a “sandwich artist” at a fast food restaurant in hopes that the immersive experience would help him to learn English. However, the fast food restaurant could not teach Thierry the complexities of grammar. So, Thierry found the literacy council He is progressing quickly in his English education and hopes to be able to acquire a job in IT as a result of his studies.
Akiko works as a graphic designer in Japan. As a professional artist she loves to visit the United States for inspiration. After several trips here, she has fallen in love with this country and now would like to immigrate to the U.S. Akiko’s host family here has a close friend who attends our ESL classes. As a result, Akiko joined our program and studied English and U.S. civics with us for two months. Akiko says she is very shy, but that she feels working with her tutor and attending small ESL classes have helped her a great deal. Akiko’s trip was so successful she plans to return in the spring to continue classes with us. She said she will really miss the students and the teachers while she is back in Japan. “Everyone is kind and I really appreciate all that the literacy council has done for me.”
Moving from Mexico eight years ago for better work, Luis has struggled to find the time to learn English because he works 50 to 60 hours every week. Finally, after many years of struggling, Luis came to the literacy council and started attending classes one month ago. Luis hopes that the program will help him have better conversation at work and to better understand the school work that his six-year old son brings home. With the help of the program, Luis hopes to be able to educate himself enough to gain United States citizenship and to open his own restaurant someday.
When asked what he liked about the program Luis said, “The teachers are nice, understanding, and patient and it is nice to be able to see people speak and make friends in the classes. I would never have a good life without being able to speak English.”
After ten years of living in America with her husband and three sons, all of whom work in the gas industry, Julia was tired of not being able to understand people. She joined the classes at the literacy council just three months ago and is continuing to make progress every day that she comes. “Getting help to speak well enough to a doctor” is just one of the many reasons that Julia joined the program.
Julia currently volunteers her time at a church working with children between the ages of eight and thirteen. When not volunteering, she sells Jafra to make money. At home she only speaks Spanish, but she is “thinking about starting a career as a pharmacy assistant and needs to know more English.” With the English skills she is learning she hopes to achieve this goal. She loves the teachers and how well they explain concepts during her lessons.
After living in Chile for most of her life, Angelica made the move to America seven years ago with her daughter. With her other two children living in Chile and Ecuador, Angelica knew that she would have to make a change in her life. After several years of getting by, Angelica decided it was time to learn English. She found the Literacy Council of Southwestern Pennsylvania and they soon placed her with a tutor.
Angelica has acquired enough English skills that she now works three days a week with adults who have Downs Syndrome. Two months ago Angelica started taking citizenship classes at the literacy council and got her United States citizenship this past summer. She now calls America her home. When asked about her experiences with the literacy council, she expressed “I love ESL and have fantastic teachers.”
Leaving her home in Mexico City two years ago with her husband was no easy task for Lucy. As a medical technician, her licenses won’t work in the United States. Her husband was recruited to work here so off she went. Arriving in America, Lucy found the literacy council, and began to learn English. With her new skills she acquired a job at a local Mexican restaurant. She says “loves people, and it is wonderful to explain, understand, and interact with people I meet.”
The knowledge she has gained from the classes at the literacy council has helped make Lucy more confident and able to understand people her husband introduces her to. With the continued help from the literacy council, Lucy hopes to one day resume her career as a lab technician.
Ubaldo & Guillermina S.
Ten years ago, Ubaldo moved to America to pursue a better life. He has worked many jobs, yet never had time to learn English. Seven years later, his wife Guillermina moved to the States and they decided that learning English was very important. Before taking ESL classes at the literacy council, both were nervous when approaching and talking to new people.
The couple has now been coming to the literacy council for over two years. “The point of these classes is to help my accent and learn verbs and grammar,” stated Ubaldo. Ubaldo has been a citizen for three years and he and the literacy council are helping Guillermina prepare for her citizenship test. Guillermina now feels more comfortable talking to people and has also learned enough English to get hired. “We really like the teachers, the books are free, and these are the only classes that are free in the whole area,” responded Ubaldo when asked what they liked about the ESL program.
Mexico seems like just a memory after leaving nine years ago. When Yohana first came to America, her parents had sent for her, along with her two sisters and brother, to be brought to a farm that they were working on. “I changed everything,” Yohana said. She has had many different jobs over the past nine years and finally decided that she wanted something more.
She started attending classes about a year ago. Through the help and encouragement of the program, Yohana hopes to be able to get her GED. In the next year, she would like to take the U.S. citizenship test. She also would like to be able to help her seven-year-old son with his homework. “You need English for everything;” states Yohana, and for this reason she is so happy with the patience and understanding of her teachers at the literacy council.”
Nine years ago, Rosa left Mexico City to move to California for her husband’s job. Two years later, that job brought them to Pennsylvania. Rosa has two children and felt that learning English was the best thing she could do. One month ago her friends told her about the program at the literacy council. At first, she was a little skeptical because her English was already pretty good and she thought the classes would only cover basic English.
A month later, she is still enjoying the program. Rosa just started a job as a bookkeeper and realized she needed to improve her writing skills for career progression. Within the next few years, Rosa hopes to have her English writing skills advanced enough to resume her career as an accountant. She believes, “To live in the United States people must learn and improve their English and provide more opportunities for themselves.
One year ago Merediith, who is 20, moved from Mexico with her family to live closer to family members and to seek a better way of life. In Mexico Merediith was in college, but since moving here she has not been able to attend until she learns more English. Instead of school Merediith has been working full time in a pizzeria. ” I like work but prefer school,” Merediith exclaimed. Three months ago Merediith came to the literacy council and is quickly learning English. Since having started at the council Merediith “feels better, has made progress, meets new people, and has a better understanding of words.” She “feels safe int the States” and is hoping that with the help of the literacy council’s programs she will be able to eventually return to college.
Five years ago Mahvash moved to the United States to live with her daughter. Her daughter had been living in the States for eleven years and Mahvash wanted to be closer to her. In Iran she had learned the basics of English but she wants to learn more. She says, “I have an interest in learning English, to live here I must understand the people.” Mahvash began classes with the literacy council two and one-half years ago and loves the people at the classes. She finds the information very useful and loves the conversation during her classes. Mahvash hopes to get her U.S. citizenship in the near future and loves that she can now talk to her grandchildren in English.
It has been five years since Anna moved to the United States to live with her brother. Over the course of those years Anna has been trying to learn English using books that her sister-in-law gets her from the library. About three weeks ago Anna found the literacy council and started attending classes. She enjoys the teachers and the material she is learning. She hopes the classes will allow her to understand English more and provide her with the skills needed to get a job.
I started out to be a teacher almost 50 years ago, but never got that far. Instead, I had a career in newspapers, and when that was done, I again thought about teaching. A year of teaching writing to college students left me unsatisfied, and I looked around for something else, for students who might be a little more motivated.
I found what I was looking for with the ESL program run by the Literacy Council. Since then I have tutored students from Mexico, Ukraine, Russia, China, Vietnam, Israel and Brazil, all who come to our sessions prepared and eager to learn. We celebrate their progress, slow as it may be, and try to have as much fun as we can as I stretch their brains. I have been a substitute teacher in the advanced class of ESL students and hope that someday all of my students can join them. I want them to be able to become part of the community, to make friends and enjoy the rest of their lives. If I can help them do that, then I will know I have done something really special and important.
I was inspired to become an ESL tutor after reading an article about the Literacy Council in the Washington Observer-Reporter newspaper. I volunteered immediately because I had been a high school ESL teacher in Harrisburg Pennsylvania. I know how rewarding it is to teach students who being class with few English skills and blossom into self-confident adults.
There is no downside to being an ESL tutor. I wholeheartedly believe that we are doing something good and am grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the Literacy Council.
I attended college in both Spain and Costa Rica and have had my share of confusing adventures. I know how overwhelming life in a different country can be. In my class we often talk about situations that have confused my students. I love seeing that “now I get it look” on their faces after I have given them an explanation.
I really enjoy teaching English as a Second Language. Whenever the students “get” something, the joy on their faces is such a reward. All of the tutors have a great relationship with their students and that is the same with me. We are able to laugh at each other and we learn from our students. I look forward to my two classes at the end of each week – as so many of us say, “it is the highlight of our week.
Imagine moving to a new country where you do not know the language. You can’t read shopping labels or know what the items are in a grocery store, talk to the doctor, read prescription labels, chat with a neighbor, understand the radio or TV, read the newspaper, have a conference with your child’s teacher, ask for information or directions, get a job, or do many of the daily activities we take for granted. For many of the students who seek ESL this is a daily problem that isolates them from our community.
Speaking English is a gift to us from our earliest days and it is very rewarding to be able to pass this gift to others to help them adjust to their new country. I have been an ESL tutor for over four years now and each class still has its exciting moments when a student masters a difficult sound, vocabulary, or grammar structure. In addition to learning English students learn American history and culture and know they are welcomed into our community and they have a resource to help with life’s little problems.
Mary Lynn G.
Not only do I have the honor of getting to know many motivated and gifted people who are working hard to learn English and to build a new life in this place, but I also am honored to partner with a group of talented and gifted people who are dedicated to teaching and supporting new immigrants to America. And, I continue to rediscover how much I love the challenges and joys of teaching.
When I met my last student, he admitted that was the first time in his life he had ever gone into the library (and he was in his fifties and had lived in this area all his life). That touched me, and so did the fact that he wanted to learn to read so that he could find a better job, as well as be able to read for pleasure just like his dad did years ago. When he mentioned that he had three previous tutors over the years, I wondered if I was up to the job, but working with him has been a very positive experience for me as I see him achieve his goals.”
I’ve always been interested in the work the Southwestern Literacy Council does, but never felt I had the time to devote to tutoring. After reading a recent article about them in the Observer Reporter, I decided it was a good time to volunteer.
I started teaching over thirty years ago, teaching kindergarten through third grade for many years before taking a break to raise my children. I returned to teaching adult education, and then spent over ten years working with college students. I’m currently an online kindergarten teacher.
I am looking forward to this opportunity and the relationships I will build. I feel I will be learning as much from my students as they are learning from me.
After earning degrees in psychology and social work, I enjoyed careers in community mental health and office administration. I took some time off in between to home-school my daughters, which was my first taste of the rewards of teaching. Once I retired, I knew that I wanted to serve others in some way. I liked the idea of helping immigrants learn English so that they are able to add their own unique contribution to the rich tapestry of our country. So I contacted the Literacy Council, and they provided me with the training and materials I needed to help adults learn English. It’s so rewarding to watch students improve their ability to communicate, and I’ve learned just as much. My life has been enriched by each student I’ve known. When I’m not tutoring, I read voraciously, square dance, garden, and spend time with my daughters and granddaughters.
I am a retired health care administrator, who spent 38 years with the Washington Health System. Prior to my health care career, I spent two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ethiopia teaching English to junior high school students in a small rural community. I also spent a year in the linguistics department of the University of Pittsburgh teaching English to students from foreign countries who were preparing to matriculate at the university.
I have an undergraduate degree from Bucknell University in political science and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Pennsylvania. I am married to Maryann, and we have three married adult children and four grandchildren. I enjoy playing tennis and pickleball, reading both fiction and nonfiction, and traveling domestically and internationally.
I loved teaching when I did it much earlier in my life, and I am happy to return to it now as a retiree. I’m glad that we have the Literacy Council here in Washington County to help our foreign-born friends adapt to their new homes.
All of my ancestors immigrated from Germany, leading me to study German for several years in high school and college. During my first trip to Germany, I quickly realized that I do not speak German!
As a tutor of a Spanish speaking young woman, I further understand the language obstacles of living in a foreign country. Think of all of your daily tasks that require you to navigate a phone system, a bank, a store, a post office, an oil change, or the endless forms that are required to register your child for school, see a medical specialist, or even answer the health questions before getting a vaccine. Now, try to imagine that you do not read, write, or speak English, and think of those tasks again.
That is why I am a tutor with the Literacy Council.
Ann K. Drach
Kris Drach is the President of the Board of the Literacy Council of Southwestern PA. She also serves as the Agency’s volunteer program director and tutor supervisor. During the past eight years, she has trained and certified almost 100 volunteer tutors and been responsible for the enrollment and literacy education of more than 700 adults in our region. She established the English as a Second Language Program in Washington County and is proud to point out that the Literacy Council has helped women and men from 48 countries. She started and funds the Literacy Council’s Children’s Program which helps prekindergarten children transition into public school without a language barrier.
Growing up, Kris was the child of a career Air Force pilot. Immediately after college she joined the Army. As a result, the first 45 years of her life were hallmarked by world travel. When it was time to retire, like most military people, Kris needed to find her “forever home.” This was an easy choice. Her ties to Southwest Pennsylvania are deep. Her father owned a farm in Greene County and her mother’s family began their American journey in the 1700s as indentured servants in Washington. Though she continued to work and travel as a defense consultant after retirement, 20 years ago Kris moved here and made this area her permanent home.
Kris served in the Army for 28 years and commanded at every level through brigade command, retiring as a full colonel in 2002. A part of the bow wave of women who helped open Army ranks to expanded roles for women, Kris’s service and activism in supporting women’s equality in the workplace greatly impacted increasing professional opportunities for military women.
After 28 years, Kris’s career was ended by a serious breast cancer diagnosis. After successful treatment, Kris became a successful advocate and lobbyist for dramatically increased funding by the federal government for breast cancer research.
Kris holds a Master’s Degree in Business Management, a Master’s Degree in National Security and Strategic Studies, and a Master’s Degree in Military Arts and Sciences.
William J. Campbell
Bill enjoyed a 35 year career at Alcoa, Inc., having held management roles in Transportation, Production Control, and Internal Audit. He retired from Alcoa in 2009 and began volunteering. He serves the PEAL Center of Pittsburgh as Treasurer, is a volunteer with St. Vincent de Paul, and has volunteered with the Greater Washington County Food Bank from 2009 to 2015.
Bill is a supporter of education, having served as a Lecturer at the University of Evansville, and has conducted numerous trainings on topics including finance, quality, and human resources. During his career, Bill has traveled to more than 35 countries, many of which do not speak English, which has enabled him to have a keen appreciation of being in a country where a different language is commonly spoken.
Rachel Zilcosky is the Adult Education Coordinator for Intermediate Unit 1. She began working in Adult Literacy in 1992 as a volunteer tutor at the Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council. Over the past 23 years she has volunteered and worked in the field of adult basic and literacy education as a GED teacher, professional development coordinator, work readiness teacher, health literacy coordinator, and GED test administrator. In 2004, Rachel joined the adult basic and literacy education staff at Intermediate Unit 1 and has since become a full time adult education coordinator. She is in charge of the adult basic and GED preparation classes in Washington and Greene counties.
In the spring of 2014, Intermediate Unit 1 (IU1) and the Literacy Council of Southwestern PA formed a partnership. Rachel serves as the liaison for the partnership and joined the board of directors in September 2014.
Dr. Sally Mounts
Dr. Sally Mounts is the Director of Development at the City Mission. She has been quoted in the Christian Science Monitor, Forbes, Inc. magazine, Inside the Locker Room, and MWorld the American Management Association’s Quarterly Management Journal.
A former U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel and VA Program Director, Dr. Mounts has a Doctorate in Psychology from Yeshiva University, a Master’s Degree in Journalism from West Virginia University, and a Bachelor’s Degree in English from The College of William and Mary.
Dr. Mounts was presented with the 2017 Athena Leadership award by the Washington County Chamber of Commerce. This internationally recognized award honors women’s leadership role in economic,social, and civic development within the community.
Danielle Marchesi has worked more than 8 years a Customer Solutions Specialist with Washington Financial Bank. In addition to assisting customers with their banking needs, Danielle has the pleasure of providing bank tours to school children and individuals with different abilities. Although Danielle works in the world of financial literacy, she has always held a special place for education and learning. Danielle has spent time working as a classroom assistant in adult education as well as a caseworker in family literacy.
Danielle is an avid volunteer with several church groups. She has been involved with youth ministry for 18 years where she has had the pleasure in accompanying young adults on several mission trips. She also enjoys traveling and trying new foods. Danielle is a Penguin’s Hockey fan and visits rival arenas where she proudly wears her Pen’s jersey in support of her favorite team. In her “spare time” Danielle also works as a hostess at The Union Grill.
However, Danielle’s most favorite activity is reading with her nieces and nephews
Honorary Board Member
“We know that language development is critical from birth to the age of four, and if it not done in that time frame you do not make it up,” she said. “Words are brain food.” Since the inception of this program in 1994, the Literacy Council has distributed over 26,000 Baby Book Bags. Helen has continued to serve the literacy council as an honorary board member for many years.