Imagine yourself pulling into a degraded, run down apartment complex in the outskirts of Greensboro, North Carolina. The buildings’ brown paint is chipping away, and the ambiance is mellow. You roll over a few speed bumps, weaving around the complex, exposing yourself to the folks that live there, most of whom do not have a job and are struggling to pay that month’s rent. You turn around the last corner to find a cul-de-sac filled with kids of all ages, nationalities, and backgrounds, running around laughing and grinning from ear to ear. You can’t help but be filled with excitement as you pull into work that day. This is Ashton Woods.
This environment is where I spent my sophomore year spring semester, working with America Reads, a program started by the Clinton administration as a national literacy campaign to increase literacy rates among the nation’s children. I did not know what to expect going into my first day, stepping onto these grounds for the first time. Kids of all ages and backgrounds approached me, eager to get to know me. I quickly learned that Ashton Woods was not only an apartment complex, but had a tutoring center built into one of the apartment buildings at the end of the complex. What I did not know going into it was that Ashton Woods was an apartment complex for refugees who had recently settled in North Carolina. Through this work opportunity, I got to work with refugee children and their families from Egypt, Mexico, Laos, and more. I would come in every Monday and Wednesday for a few hours at a time to help the kids complete their homework and teach them English.
One day, I had the unexpected opportunity to work with the mother of a student I had worked with many times (and thoroughly enjoyed working with, might I add). Her son approached me asking me to help his mom with her English studying. At first, I wasn’t sure what this would entail. Would I have to be a teacher of sorts to her and try to break the language barrier the best I could? She spoke Arabic, which was a language I knew nothing about. The mother was taking English classes each night at the tutoring center and needed help sounding out words like table, book, and pencil. She looked at me for approval of pronunciation and for clarification of what the words meant. It was then that I noticed the impact I was having even though it didn’t seem like I was doing much.
It was evident this woman, whose four kids spent time at the center on a daily basis, was trying so hard to learn the language and become acclimated to the American way of life. She not only wanted her kids to have a better life, but she wanted to be able to contribute in any way she could. It was clear she wanted her kids to be successful. Although I do not understand Arabic, I could hear her constantly checking in on her two kids in elementary school to see how their homework was coming along. She wanted to make sure it was completed so that the kids would be ahead of the game.
Even though I only worked with her for about thirty minutes, we seemed to connect. We had fun while practicing. She even taught me the Arabic equivalents to some words and laughed when I tried pronouncing them (clearly butchering them). She went through the list three times, and it was clear how passionate and determined she was about learning and honing her skills. When she went over her long list, she would often struggle to remember how to pronounce something or what something meant, but was so very grateful for my help.
When it was time for me to leave, her daughter stopped me and said that her mother told her in Arabic that she wanted me to assist her every day. I couldn’t help but feel appreciated. I told her to let her mother know I would be back the next week and would be more than willing to help her.
I am so grateful for the opportunity I had to work at Ashton Woods to not only work with the kids, but with that one particular mother. She was so strong-minded and, honestly, inspirational. This opportunity solidified my hopes of teaching English in a foreign country, possibly Spain, after graduation and pursuing my passion of working with children and adults.
At work that day, I felt especially helpful. Not only did I love interacting with the children there – who always welcome me with open arms – but I enjoyed interacting with the children’s parents, who more often than not do not speak a word of English. Being able to give back to others is something I have always been passionate about. I am always looking for opportunities to get involved in the community, or serve as a mentor, tutor, and friend to someone in need. It is not always about how you can better yourself by helping others, but how you can help better someone else as a result of your work.