Meet Allison, 2022 Volunteer of the Year
Spotlight on Allison
"I watched a boy from Paraguay grow up and become a naturalized citizen. It was a defining moment in my life."
Allison became an LVSC tutor in 2003. She has dedicated nearly two decades to LVSC as a tutor, a conversation group leader, and a book club facilitator.
LVSC: You majored in economics in college. How did you get started as an English tutor?
Allison: My experience as a tutor began years ago. When my now 33-year-old daughter was in fourth grade she had a teacher who assigned a difficult long report. A student in her class cried weekly when asked about her progress. She was unable to complete the project because her mother, who was not bilingual, was unable to help. I helped the student, and it was eye-opening how the entire family was affected by her mother’s inability to speak English. A few years later I tutored two young boys at Hillside School who had arrived overnight from Paraguay. Those two became very close to my family.
LVSC: Tell us about your experiences as an LVSC tutor.
Allison: I joined LVSC after I saw a blurb in the local newspaper looking for tutors and offering training. My first student was a Ukrainian woman who was looking for a job in her field of music. That was 15 years ago, and we still text each other. Her extended family remains in the Ukraine. After tutoring one-to-one for years, I began hosting a conversation group in the Bound Brook library with fellow volunteer and friend, Karen Brown.
LVSC: You and Elizabeth Breedlove were recently named LVSC Volunteer of the Year for your combined efforts to help LVSC students become U.S. citizens during the pandemic. Tell us more about that journey.
Allison: My tutoring activities have expanded over the years. Today, teaching immigrants who apply for citizenship and must pass the very difficult test and interview in English is the most rewarding. The test consists of 100 Civic Questions, tests the applicant’s ability to read and write sentences dictated in English, and a most challenging segment called “the interview.“ The application is 20 pages long and the cost of filing is $1,050 dollars. A lot is on the line and intense studying is required. Because it is currently conducted with a mask and plexiglass divider, an already difficult experience is complicated further. If an applicant fails one section, they have only one chance at a retest.
LVSC: How does it feel when one of your students achieves their goal of becoming a new U.S. citizen?
Allison: I have been to several tests and ceremonies and the pressure and joy is palatable. When a student passes, everyone cries, celebrates and the cameras are flashing. Years ago, I watched a boy from Paraguay grow up and become a naturalized citizen; it was a defining moment in my life. I feel it is my mission to give that experience to all others who are so deserving of it.
LVSC: Tell us more about your virtual book club.
Allison: The virtual book club came about when the Covid-19 pandemic prevented us from conducting in-person classes, switching instead to virtual learning. I have to admit that, at first, I was resistant. I had taught and tutored in-person for over a decade and the switch was a shock which I thought might detract from the experience. But I find that I have come to embrace the change. I believe LVSC has grown and expanded because of it.
LVSC: Why a book club?
Allison: Karen Brown and I chose a book club format because we are avid readers ourselves and wanted to share the experience. Because my ability to manage technology is limited this seemed to be a perfect simple format. We have read so many books, including The Color of Water, (James McBride), Finding Chica (Mitch Albom), Wonder (RJ Palacio), Other Words for Home, (Jasmine Warga), A Long Walk to Water (Linda Sue Park), and currently, What the Dog Saw (Malcolm Gladwell). I am so proud of my students.
LVSC: Describe a book club meeting.
Allison: Every week we meet virtually and discuss the chapters previously assigned. We define words, explain idioms, compare the book to our own experiences and generally enjoy the adventure of reading. One week we discussed a chapter in Malcolm Gladwell’s book about the origin of Miss Clairol hair color. Alvaro sure got an eyeopener on women’s beauty regimen, making the discussion enjoyable for everybody!