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2018 Volunteer Spotlights

Use the links below to see specific people, or browse at your lesiure!


Jo Anne Stefano

Jo Anne has a long history of volunteerism throughout the community, actively supporting Meals on Wheels, Lions Club International, and the City of Fulshear. She’s a business owner, political activist, and the primary caregiver of her live-in mother.

She started volunteering at Literacy Advance in 2016, shortly after our office opened in Waller County, and quickly found multiple ways to support her neighbors as a tutor, substitute, donor, and by representing Literacy Advance at various community events throughout greater Houston.

Jo Anne first tutored a Beginner English class two evenings a week. She admits she was intimidated to get started, because she didn’t have formal teaching experience or speak another language. As owner of a children’s school, she spent her days with kids under 10; she knew that working with adults would require a shift in mind-set before every lesson.

But she was enamored of the students’ vulnerability and the trust they placed in her after the very first lesson. Their gratitude and commitment motivated her to connect with other volunteers and increase her effectiveness as a tutor. She used her lunch break to come to Tutor Enrichment Workshops at Wilcrest, travelled across three counties to participate in a Tutor Roundtable at Bay Area, and attended the Gulf Coast Literacy Symposium [registration for the 2018 symposium open now!].

Jo Anne’s creative by nature, and regularly exchanges ideas via our Tutor Support Group on Facebook. Her guiding principle is to let the students determine what’s important to include in lessons.

Her last class took a field trip to the local library so they could sign up for free books and computer access, and stopped to order fast food in English for the first time. Before her class finished in December, she volunteered to tutor yet another 12-week class at Waller as soon as the office opens for the Spring Semester in 2018.

We’re not sure how she does it, but we’re happy Jo Anne carves out time to volunteer at Literacy Advance, and we know the students in her next class will be, too!

What keeps you coming back?

Every day, there are so many demands on my time and attention. Tutoring fills me back up. It replenishes my soul.

What inspires you?

The best thing is when students make personal connections through English I helped them learn. In a recent Beginner class, we were talking about vowels and practicing that strange, American *a* sound. We used minimal pairs like *mad* and *sad*. We need to animate and act out sounds and words, so we practiced looking mad.

The next week, one student shared that he asked a co-worker: "You mad?" They proceeded to have a whole conversation around why. This was the first time he was able to have a conversation with this co-worker, he had the power to make a connection, and it started because the expressions helped him to remember the words!

Jo Anne's class celebrates Thanksgiving in November 2016

What's the biggest lesson you’ve learned?

In my first class, I tried to give my knowledge to the students. I directed the class and did a lot of lecturing. I’ve learned that I need to give students opportunities to practice their English. My job is just to oversee it.

Although I come prepared for the lesson and start with an agenda, class often goes off on tangents, and that’s okay! The students tell me what they need. They show me how to teach them.

What would you say to other people thinking about volunteering?

I thought I needed more linguistics. You don’t! You just need to have a willingness to save one starfish, that’s huge! You will make a difference in their lives, but even more, they will make a difference in yours.

What’s your favorite story?

Where the Wild Things Are. (If you haven’t yet, read it! It’s full of life lessons.)

Welcome back, Jo Anne, and thank you!

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