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Local tutors help adults with English skills

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KENT – Helping someone to learn to speak English or to strengthen one’s reading skills can bring many rewards and Kent is fortunate to have eight tutors volunteering their time for the organization Literacy Volunteers on the Green (LVG).

Literacy Volunteers on the Green tutor Sue McWhinnie teaches GJ Hernandez and Ofelia Santiago English at the Kent Memorial Library recently. She is one of eight tutors in Kent helping adults with their English skills. Photo by Lynn Mellis Worthington

The regional organization, with an office in New Milford, has six of its Board of Directors hailing from Kent, including former president Henry “Hank” McWhinnie, as well as the group of tutors working with English language learners.

The nonprofit organization provides instruction in the English language free of charge. Classes are scheduled at mutually convenient times and locations for students and tutors. There are 16 towns in western Connecticut served by LVG, but Kent has long had a strong presence.

Sue McWhinnie has been a tutor since 2005. She was introduced to the idea by Janet Kamm, another Kent resident, who encouraged her to take the training to become a tutor. She’s been volunteering ever since and finds it very rewarding.

“The people that we meet, we form a bond with them,” she said. “Once you get to know these people they are wonderful.”

On a recent Tuesday morning McWhinnie was working with two women, GJ Hernandez and Ofelia Santiago, in the Reading Room of the Kent Memorial Library. The library opens early for the Literacy group instruction, and it is being utilized multiple weekday mornings each week.

Both of the women were heading to work after class to work at The Villager Restaurant. They’ve been learning and improving their English for many years, since their adult children now in college and older, were attending Kent Center School. Their first classes were held at the school.

Lynn Davies, the executive director of LVG, said the training of the tutors is an important aspect and everyone works with the same curriculum so there is consistency to the instruction.

“The best tutors are knowledgeable, experienced and have a good attitude about creating a safe learning environment,” Davies said, adding that the organization doesn’t require someone to be a trained teacher to become a tutor. She said many people initially reach out because they see tutoring as a great way of giving back to their community.

Tutor training is held at least three times per year and Sue McWhinnie said the volunteers really appreciate the professional development opportunities. There are 98 tutors currently providing services to 150 students.

Other services provided by LVG are basic reading and writing for native English speakers; family literacy; high school equivalency preparation; U.S. citizenship preparation; college essay writing and mentoring; workplace and employment literacy support.

The group works with social services departments in towns to share information about the free literacy services.

While Hank McWhinnie started off as a volunteer tutor, the organization quickly realized that he has skills that were beneficial to the efficiency of the Board of Directors. He worked as a consultant to the board for many years and then eventually became the president. He helped organize LVG with a number of committees and helped guide them through strategic planning. He reports he feels great that the organization structure is quite strong now and has regular monthly board meetings.

The organization is growing but the board is cognizant that it can’t grow too fast without planning for it, Sue McWhinnie said.

Funding for LVG comes from a number of sources, including municipal grants, corporate and personal donations and there are two major fundraisers each year. The annual benefit will be held June 15 at a private property on Warren with views of Lake Waramaug. For more information, see the website.

Lynn Worthington
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