EVERETT — Everett Community College student Nhat-Khanh Tran has aspirations of becoming an engineer.
Before he can leap into the complex world of number crunching, he needs to gain a greater command of the English language spoken by his instructors.
That’s why each week he makes his way to the second floor of Rainier Hall where he’s a regular at the college’s Adult Literacy Center.
The Vietnamese-born student, 23, immigrated to America less than two years ago. He soon realized that there was a sizeable gap between the English he learned in his homeland and what he is expected to know to do well in college courses in America.
He’s thankful for Ila Funkhouser, 74, a Snohomish woman who is patient and disarming when she works with him.
Funkhouser’s daughter convinced her that volunteering at the literacy center would be a worthwhile use of her time. That’s exactly what she has found.
“Right off the top, I have enjoyed the students,” Funkhouser said. “They all are so eager. They don’t apply for a tutor if they don’t want to learn.”
Funkhouser tries to keep each lesson upbeat and to put Tran at ease as he tries to enunciate tricky three- and four-syllable words, grasp new concepts and tackle grammar. Mainly, Funkhouser wants him to feel safe and comfortable trying to communicate in his new language.
“At first, I was scared to talk with everyone,” Tran said. “I want to improve my language so I can learn new things.”
EvCC’s Volunteer Literacy Program helps Snohomish County adults get the skills needed to progress toward their goals, such as passing the GED test, technical certification programs, college entrance and citizenship, school officials said.
It serves more than 500 students every year.
Mary Ann Krauel, 76, is a loyal volunteer.
She works at the center five days a week and has reached the point she dislikes breaks between quarters.
“I don’t know what to do with myself if there is no school,” she said.
Krauel earned a degree in education but ended up working in the financial field for more than 40 years. She has volunteered at Centralia, Skagit Valley and Everett community colleges over the last dozen years.
It’s a rewarding way to spend her days, she said.
She gets to see people she works with improve their lives. A case in point is the middle-aged man who would drive to Everett after working all day in Kirkland so he could get help studying for his GED exams and gain acceptance into a welding program.
“It didn’t take long to realize this is what I am supposed to be doing,” Krauel said. “It’s like I’m sitting here telling myself I should have been doing this all along.”
Sarah Olson, the Volunteer Literacy Center program coordinator, said tutors such as Krauel seem to benefit as much as the students. Olson maintains a roster of 35 to 50 volunteers, but is always looking for more.
“I can’t say enough good things about these people who have given their time,” Olson said. “The volunteers are what make our program possible.”
Krauel, who is as comfortable helping with math as she is English, looks forward to each day at the center. She knows how hard the students are trying.
“That’s the nice part of this,” she said. “They have to do the work.”
Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446, email@example.com.
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