The Three Rs: Reading, Writing, & Relationship August 31, 2017
The Three Rs: Reading, Writing, and Relationships
On Tuesday evenings Don Majeska goes to the West Chicago Public Library. Heading upstairs to his regular spot, he settles in with books, lesson plans, and papers—waiting for his friend to meet him.
Since Don is retired, he arrives a bit earlier than their arranged time, but he knows his friend works long hours and might run late.
A few minutes later, Gildardo Salinas walks in the door, all smiles. The two men greet each other enthusiastically and start catching up. Even though they meet every week, there are updates to share and photos to show: their children, wives, dogs, jobs. Two friends, getting together and sharing life.
Then they sit down and get to work. Don and Gil are friends, but they are also tutor and student.
A Great Idea
On a Sunday morning late in the summer of 2014, Don and his wife heard Pastor Chris McElwee make a request from the pulpit: Puente del Pueblo needed more English-as-a-Second Language (ESL) tutors. The training would begin in just a few weeks
“My wife leaned over and said, ‘I’d like to do this!’” Don remembers. He thought it was a great idea . . . for her.
Then she said, “Come with me!”
“So I did,” Don says. “And when I sat in on that first training class, I was sold. I loved it. I loved it.”
The eight-week ESL tutor training began in early September. By the fourth lesson, each tutor-to-be was assigned an ESL student—in Don’s case, Gil. And soon after, they were off and running.
Time to Try
For almost twenty years, Gildardo had lived in the area and worked as a baker, making bread and pastries starting long before dawn each morning. His long work hours—often ten hours a day, six or seven days a week—coupled with the time he needed for his wife and three children, made it difficult to find time for anything extra, much less acquiring a second language.
But when he heard about Puente’s program, he decided it was time to try.
Today Gil reflects, “The ESL program changed my life. Now, when I go to the store, I understand what people say to me. If I need to talk or ask a question, I can. And sometimes when I am with others who don’t know English, I can help them. Before, all these things were hard. Now, life is much easier.”
Recently, Gil had an important doctor’s appointment. An interpreter was scheduled to accompany him but did not show up. The appointment went forward, and Gil realized he could communicate and understand without interpretation. He was able to navigate the conversation on his own.
Gil and Don shared the celebration of that incredible victory.
Do, Did, Done
After the two men catch up on their lives and families, they begin the session with a devotional time. At Gil’s request, Don prints out the devotions in English and Spanish, using an online translation service. “Gil does his in English, and he makes me do them in Spanish,” Don quips.
“Gil has been very open and willing to incorporate spirituality into our time together, and this has been a blessing to both of us. I always remind him, ‘If I say something that offends you, just let me know,’” Don said.
“I will still teach you English, even if you don’t want to study Christianity,” Don told his student.
But Gil is all for it. “I usually work seven days a week, and this is the main place I receive spiritual input,” he said.
Gil is eager to talk about matters of faith. “I love to talk about God, what He is like and how He changes our lives and forgives our sins. I teach my children the same thing,” Gil said.
"We begin our tutoring time together with devotions because God is always first. It is the same way at home—before I go to work, I spend time praying.”
Today’s devotions include passages from Romans and 1 Corinthians. Later, the grammar lesson will be on the past-tense “did” verbs, as well as irregular verbs. Don has worked this into the devotions, so as the two study the verses, they consider the impact of the grammar as well.
Then, as is their tradition, Don stumbles through the prayer he has translated into Spanish. When Don finishes, Gil applauds, beaming gleefully. For a moment, the student has become the teacher.
Then, on to grammar. Do, did, done.
A Story in the Making
Gil and Don’s story has been years in the making. Back in 2010, Puente del Pueblo made the decision to partner with Literacy DuPage to launch English literacy services. Director Matthew McNiel describes the process:
“Puente identifies the adult learners from among people we work with every day,” Matthew explains. “We share the need for volunteer tutors with the people of the church; then Literacy DuPage leads eighteen hours of training to equip those volunteers with the skills needed to teach one-on-one. Adult learners are matched to tutors, and then both organizations support the learning partnership, with Literacy DuPage assessing and evaluating learner level and progress.
“This association is fantastic, because Puente has the relationships in the community, and Literacy DuPage brings professional language-learning curriculum and training,” Matthew adds.
In Gil’s case, the powerful impact of that partnership speaks for itself.
When Gil signed up to take ESL classes, he tested at a fourth-grade reading level. Two years later, he tested at grade seven. Now he has officially graduated from the program and received three diplomas from Literacy DuPage for his hard work and achievement.
But even after graduation, he and Don continue to meet, practicing reading, opening the Scriptures, and sharing their lives.
Over the years, they have squeezed meetings between Gil’s work schedule, kids’ soccer games, and special events in Gil’s family—like new babies and his daughter’s Quinceañera (the traditional celebration for a Latina girl on her fifteen birthday).
Studying is not something that fits easily into such a routine. But sometimes, Gil dreams of trying next for a GED (General Education Diploma, or high school equivalency).
Looking back on the past three years, Don is very grateful for his experiences as an ESL volunteer.
“Nothing like this was even on my radar,” he said. “My wife got me into tutoring, but this is the most rewarding part of my retirement.
“By the end of the first month, Gil and I had moved from being student and teacher to being good friends,” Don said. “And he has exposed me to the Latino community—a culture right in my backyard, with traditions I wasn’t aware of before his friendship. I now have a deep appreciation for my Latino friends and their customs.
“We’ve been to each other’s houses, and I’ve been able to get to know Gil’s family. I’ve learned about the farm in Mexico where he grew up with his brothers and sisters. I’ve heard all about his daughter’s First Communion, and when his oldest son had a baby. I’ve learned about the foods he likes, and I’ve learned to like some of them too.
An added bonus to Don is that “Gil is a gardener, so he brings me the best cucumbers. And, of course, he brings me samples of the pastries he bakes!”
Both tutor and student have gained so much from this relationship. Gil has gained valuable language skills, while Don has found a way to make a meaningful contribution with the extra time he has available during his retirement.
But the greatest value, both men agree, is the relationship they now share—a cross-cultural friendship that has been forged through shared knowledge, deep conversation, and mutual respect—built one Tuesday night at a time.
Could you join our team? Providing an adult with life-changing skills of speaking, reading, and writing in English is a deeply rewarding experience for the tutors who serve in Puente del Pueblo's English Literacy Program. No prior language ability is required. Literacy DuPage offers a six-week training program at our church each fall. Learn more: wheatonbible.org/puentedelpueblo.