“It was a safe place with someone who is going to give them the grace to speak at their pace.”
The following Volunteer Spotlight is based on an interview with Anna Ondrish, Volunteer Instructor, Occupational Skills Training Class
Last year in 2020 Anna Ondrish decided that she wanted to start volunteering somewhere. She found out about the Literacy Council through a friend who really raved about it. After going online and checking the website, she attended the winter Tutor Training Workshop.
After she completed the workshop to become a new tutor, Anna responded to an email from the Literacy Council’s Program Manager, Jennifer Szabo, asking for someone who would be interested in developing and leading a job skills class.
Anna and Jennifer worked together and developed a syllabus for what ended up being a seven-week occupational skills training class. She described her students’ enthusiasm: They didn’t want it to end. They wanted us to continue. I wasn’t only just giving out information. I was getting them to talk. It was a safe place with someone who is going to give them the grace to speak at their pace.
At the beginning and throughout each week there was a lot of preparation, as Anna wanted some structure around what she was teaching. Even if the class students never had to fill out a job application online, she felt that the information that they learned was really valuable: My big thing is knowledge is powerful. If you have knowledge, you feel strong — you feel in control.
Can you describe the lessons you covered in the class?
The first three classes were spent on the different fields of the job application. A lot of them they knew, but there were some hard ones as well, such as “Have you ever been convicted of a felony”? With the help of my husband who works in law enforcement, I broke it down into layman’s terms. It was a really great lesson because it was empowering to understand the question and be able to answer it correctly, and giving them the grace that you want to answer honestly. But I also helped them to understand that if you make a mistake – it isn’t the end of the world, you need to be able to explain it was an error.
Next, the class learned the different parts of a resume. I explained about resumes and sent the students an online template that Jennifer set up. I gave them homework – such as writing out where they attended school and where they worked. The students sent drafts to me and I would fix them and return them before class. When they met the next time, I could bring up each of their resumes in the class.
The last class focused on interview questions and interviewing skills. I took the approach that they were all adults, had worked in their countries and had held jobs. I asked the students to tell the class in English about what interviews are like in their country. They learned that those are the same questions we ask here. They discussed the questions: “What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses?” The last week went by so fast, there was so much dialogue between us.
What kind of material did you develop?
I had a PowerPoint that I used for the job application and Jennifer created an online application template. They could practice, and input into the template. I also had a resume template that I used. The strength of the class was their engagement – practicing their English but drawing on their own experience and building on that.
How did it work to teach the class remotely on Zoom?
Zoom really worked out well for this group of people. One student logged on during a break from work. Another was getting home from work, another had children to take care of. If we were doing face-to-face they would have had other challenges getting to class.
What drew you to become a volunteer with the Literacy Council?
It has always been a passion of mine to help people. I am first generation in the U.S. and I did not speak English when I started school in the first grade. At that time ESL classes weren’t taught in school and I struggled all the way through high school. I had a friend who believed in me, and in my twenties, I went to community college and later the university and really excelled. Working in customer service I was asked to apply for a job in the IT department and I have worked my way up to the director for Quality Assurance. It has been an interesting road.
What are your next steps with this class?
I am already discussing offering the class again in September with Jennifer. I took notes from every lesson so I know what went well and what to improve. It was a great experience, I really enjoyed it!
Last year, more than 150 passionate and dedicated volunteers like Anna volunteered over 12,800 hours supporting the tutoring, class, parent and workplace literacy programs. The Literacy Council is always seeking volunteers. Learn more by registering for a 60-minute Volunteer Information Session offered every month, followed by a Tutor Training Workshop. All sessions and workshops are currently conducted online.