April Volunteer Spotlight: Diane

This month’s Volunteer Spotlight shines brightly on Diane. A retired RN, Diane has been an invaluable member of our team since 2018. Diane heard about us at the end of her career and was initially interested because of her lifelong passion for reading. She wanted to share her love for reading that, as she put it, “opens new worlds.” 

Diane’s first experience as a volunteer with WALC was to support someone studying for their Citizenship Test, a role she found fulfilling. Encouraged by our Education Director, she transitioned to assisting at Women and Children’s English classes, starting as a classroom aide before becoming deeply involved with the children’s portion of the program. 

Diane told us that she enjoys volunteering so much that it almost feels selfish – she is constantly learning so much! She also expressed a feeling we hear time and again from our volunteers, which is how impressed she is with the resilience & courage of the people we work with. She also likes to remind the families she works with what a gift it is to continue talking to their children in their native language so they can maintain their cultural roots at home. Diane often helps learners with health questions, making phone calls on their behalf and assisting in solving problems. She said that even when she gets stuck it’s always an interesting problem to solve, and she feels confident knowing that she always has our Education Department as a resource. Diane continues tutoring in addition to helping with the children twice a week at our Women and Children’s class. For the past 3-4 years she has been walking alongside a husband and wife assisting with English. She has also helped with several big milestones – passing the citizenship test and applying for a Habitat for Humanity home. Diane said their success is due to their dedication – they set aside the time to learn, and they make a point to meet in front of their kids so they’re setting an example of how important literacy is. 

Thank you Diane – for everything you do for our learners here at WALC!

March Learner Spotlight: Redwan

Redwan is an immigrant from Syria who arrived in the USA with his family in November of 2022. 

Redwan was a certified Ophthalmologist and Eye Surgeon in Syria, performing various surgical procedures such as cataract surgery, LASIK surgery, and glaucoma surgery.

He quickly realized that getting back into his professional field in the U.S would take a lot of work. He met with the Vocational Services Director, Oxana, quite regularly to map out his plan. Redwan took the first step by enrolling in the ELL program at FVTC and worked hard on improving his spoken and written skills in English.

As a Road to Work program participant, he learned about American work culture, polished his resume writing skills, and gained interviewing skills. Additionally, he was actively applying for jobs in the area of his expertise. WALC helped him connect with Aurora Medical Center in Fond Du Lac, who had an open position as an Optometric Ophthalmic Technician. Redwan quickly jumped to step two of his strategic plan – preparing a strong resume and getting ready for his first interview. He went through three rounds of interviews with the panel. It was clear that the interviewers were impressed with Redwan’s background knowledge, skills, and experience. He was extremely prepared; he knew his role and what was expected of him. The panel acknowledged Redwan’s expertise and recognized his potential. They just needed him to get better at English to be able to perform this role with confidence. Although Redwan did not land that job, he said it had been a valuable interviewing experience and it motivated him to invest more time in practicing his English.  

In June of 2023, Redwan applied for a position as an Optician with Shopko Optical in Oshkosh and had a successful interview with the company. He made an exceptional impression on the interviewing team and was offered a job, starting the position at the end of July 2023.  

Redwan is now working full-time and says that he is learning a lot about the American healthcare system, health insurance, and customer interaction, which will increase his chances for success in the future. Redwan’s next step is to continue on this path and has dreams of becoming an Optometrist and obtaining a license for practicing. 

Redwan is incredibly grateful for all the assistance he got from the Vocational Services Director at WALC and is enthusiastic about proving that he has the skills to be a valuable part of this community’s workforce. We wish Redwan success in his future endeavors! 

February Volunteer Spotlight: Michelle

Our Spotlight of the month is Michelle!

Michelle started volunteering with us two years ago, after she retired from the Oshkosh Area School District as an elementary school teacher. At WALC Michelle is a tutor, a classroom helper, and a substitute teacher. She also generously contributed her time at Spellbound For Literacy and the Farmers Market this past year. Always ready to jump in and help, Michelle has quickly become a mainstay in our WALC offices.

With a lifelong passion for fostering diverse learning environments, Michelle’s journey to our literacy council was a natural fit. She taught in Germany for 16 years, and during that time she had students from all over Europe, which she found invigorating. Michelle said she loves being a volunteer here because she loves the energy that the WALC staff, teachers and learner’s supply. She admires the unrelenting dedication demonstrated by our learners, who work extremely hard every day; even just to get to class!

Michelle, your commitment and enthusiasm have solidified your place as an integral part of our WALC family. We extend our deepest gratitude for the invaluable contributions you make every day. Thank you for everything you do!

January Learner Spotlight

Our Spotlight of the Month this January is Rozan!  Rozan is seen here celebrating her 180 days on the job with 4Imprint.  Rozan relocated to Oshkosh a little over two years ago from Syria. She cherishes life in Oshkosh, especially in comparison to larger cities like Chicago or Milwaukee, appreciating the warmth and friendliness of the people here. In Syria, Rozan was pursuing a degree in Geology, but the onset of the war disrupted her academic journey.

Despite the challenges, Rozan’s husband successfully obtained a Green Card and came to the US. While awaiting the necessary paperwork to join him, she dedicated two years to mastering the English language in preparation for her new life. Once she arrived, we had the privilege of assisting Rozan with her English skills at the WALC for a couple of months before she secured her first job in Oshkosh, working in a restaurant. However, it turned out to be a mismatch for her.

That’s when she connected with Oxana through our Road To Work program, leading her to her current position at 4Imprint. Rozan expresses her love for working at 4Imprint, emphasizing the supportive and friendly atmosphere.

Congratulations Rozan! Thank you for allowing us to share your inspiring success story. Please keep us posted on the wonderful journey of your growing family!

December Learner Spotlight: Joan

A Road to Work Success Story!

Joan came to Oshkosh, WI as a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo in November of 2022. As a young, outgoing, goal-oriented woman with a bachelor’s degree in Community Development, she was looking for opportunities to start a new life here in the U.S.

Joan was referred to the Winnebago Area Literacy Council Road to Work program by our community liaison with an intention of helping Joan gain a better understanding of the job market and the newest employment trends in WI, and learn how to craft a good resume and develop good interviewing skills. She was very excited about the prospective job opportunities but did not know where she would fit the best. Very soon, Joan learned that career pathways in health care afford tremendous opportunities, especially at a pivotal time in Wisconsin as healthcare shortages are on the rise.

As a very giving, caring, and compassionate person by nature, Joan decided to explore a new career path as a CNA. After taking a 4-week class she started working in her new role at Parkview Health Center in Oshkosh.

In a conversation with our Vocational Services Director, she shared that working in the healthcare field has its challenges but also holds inspiring advancements and boasts a meaningful, service-minded passion that fuels making a difference in the lives of others. The residents she works with call her a “smiler” as she always brings in a positive vibe and her own sunshine when she enters their rooms. She is glad to be a part of this dynamic industry.

Congratulations, Joan! We are excited to see what your professional future holds for you and what dreams you are planning to achieve!

November Volunteer Spotlight: Allegra Van Rossum

Our November Volunteer Spotlight is Allegra Van Rossum. Allegra became a volunteer with us just this year, but she is already very involved with our organization in several ways.

Allegra is originally from the Madison area and served in the Army for 4 years after completing her degree in computer science at UW Stout. She relocated to Oshkosh for a job with Oshkosh Corporation a little over a year ago.

She loves Oshkosh and was already looking for a volunteer opportunity when she read about the Winnebago Area Literacy Council in the local newspaper. It seemed like a good way to get involved and give back to the community, so she reached out. Allegra is tutoring one individual, and she also comes to our Menasha classes every Tuesday and Thursday to serve as a classroom helper. In addition to those weekly commitments, she has been involved in our special events – serving as a judge for the Mark Gruenwald Comic Book Creation Challenge and attending our annual Spellbound For Literacy Event. Allegra says she enjoys being a WALC volunteer because we’re teaching usable, tangible skills and there is real measurable progress. WALC is grateful to have Allegra as a volunteer, and her efforts contribute significantly to the success of the organization. Thank you, Allegra, for your commitment and the positive influence you bring to the Winnebago Area Literacy Council!

October Spotlight: Mwigimba!

Mwigimba came to Oshkosh, WI as a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo in November of 2022 at the age of 20. He arrived here with his sister while the rest of his family – his Mother and two siblings – were left behind.

Mwigimba’s biggest advantage as a newcomer was a good level of conversational English. He enrolled in our Road to Work for Refugees and Immigrants program early in December and by mid-January of 2023 he was offered a position of a Production Worker at the Amcor Health Care facility here in Oshkosh. He is very much liked on the job for his friendly, compassionate personality, as well as his business-like attitude and great work ethic.

Soon after his probation period Amcor offered him an absolutely exciting job opportunity – a Trainer Coordinator position that utilizes his skills as a Swahili-English interpreter at the facility. In this role, he assists all new Swahili-speaking hires at his facility and works with them during their training period teaching them the ropes.

The company management recognized Mwigimba’s potential and offered him financial assistance for a degree program from a local college for 2024. Mwigimba couldn’t be happier! He enjoys every workday, he loves the work environment and his team, he enjoys his supervisor and he is looking forward to his new bright future with Amcor!

Thanks to the stability of his position Mwigimba was able to buy a car and support his family while they were overseas. Not long ago his mother and siblings finally arrived in Wisconsin. Now he doesn’t have to worry about his loved ones, and they are all together again.

Mwigimba also provides support to the Swahili-speaking learners in our Road to Work program as an interpreter at their job interviews. “It’s my way of giving back for all the support I got, and it helps me reach a greater sense of fulfillment,” he says.

Congratulations on your success Mwigimba – we hope you continue to keep us updated as your journey progresses!

September Spotlight: Cathie

Our September spotlight of the month is Cathie.  Cathie is a new WALC employee, and she oversees our newly launched transportation program.  Cathie has been taking the bus her entire life, and firmly believes in the value of public transportation to the overall community.  As a result, she was ready to jump into this project from the moment we approached her with the idea. 

Our mission as a literacy council is clear:  we strengthen our diverse community by developing and delivering free learner-centered literacy programs for adults and their families.  So why are we delving into transportation?  Because our unofficial mission is even more simple:  Eliminating barriers.  We cannot deliver our literacy programs if the learners cannot get to class.  We were very lucky to find two people who were equally passionate about tackling this program, Cathie, and Tina.  Right now, they

develop an individualized transportation plan for each of our applicable learners.  They begin by meeting the learner at our class and assessing their needs as well as building a relationship.  They find out the needs of this individual learner – what business and locations they need to access in addition to our classes.  At that point they scout the routes – personally traveling the route from the learner’s home to those locations making detailed notes of landmarks, potential issues, and comparing the anticipated schedule to the reality of the trip.  At that point they take the learner to acquire their bus pass and schedule the first ride along with them.  They meet the learner at their home, walk with them to the bus stop, and travel to their destination and back.  They do this multiple times per destination, until the learner is confident enough in their transportation skills to switch roles.  At that point they become the teachers, leading Cathie or Tina along the route from start to finish, and back! 

Cathie said she loves this program because she personally gets to help create independence for the people she works with.  It’s visibly empowering for these families to gain the ability to navigate their new city on their own with confidence.  She said that the community really seems to appreciate the program – bus drivers and patrons are welcoming and helpful. 

Cathie has had the advantage of seeing changes in our local transportation system firsthand.  She watched when the city bus system transformed into Go Transit, and the upgrades that came with it.  She is hopeful that as the bus system improves more people in our community will use it.  For our purposes at the literacy council, it would be ideal to eventually have as many as 10 casual part-time employees that are familiar and comfortable enough with the routes and the system to train our learners.  As with all programs – the need ebbs and flows with the community.  If the idea of this program speaks to you, and you would be interested in helping as a bus trainer please let us know!   In the meantime, we would like to thank Cathie, Tina, and our partners at Go Transit for making this program possible!

August Spotlight: Pat & Htoo

Each month we share a story of one of our learners or one of our volunteers.  This month we are combining the two and sharing the beautiful story of one of our tutor pairs.   As we advertise, it only takes one hour of availability per week to be an English tutor for us.  A lot of our tutor pairs work together for a short time, the learner gains the independence they need, and both individuals move on – the learner to their lives, and hopefully the tutor comes back to us for a new assignment.  However, sometimes these pairs are such a good match that they voluntarily continue their relationship for years, and their relationship becomes more than just one of a tutor/learner.  This is one of those stories – and we are grateful to Pat and Htoo for letting us share it.

This story begins in 2018.  Pat’s son had a hard time reading when he was young, and they had gotten him extra help.  Pat wanted to do something similar to give back to the community.  Thankfully for us, she saw that we were conducting a tutor orientation, and she signed up!  She was the only person to sign up that day, and she was quickly matched with Htoo.  At the time Htoo had been in the United States for a while and she was working full time.  She had a good English foundation but needed help at the sentence level.  Pat says they had immediate rapport – “Htoo has always been easy to love and work with – she’s so fun and we laugh together all the time!”  Htoo was also very dedicated to learning – they immediately started meeting for two hours twice a week.  Shortly after they started meeting, Htoo became eligible for Citizenship, and they began to study together.  Pat said her favorite memory of studying for citizenship was when they got to the question “Who wrote the Declaration of Independence?” – without hesitation Htoo confidentially answered “Tammy Baldwin!”  That became a private joke between them that they still enjoy to this day.  Htoo passed her Citizenship test on the first try with flying colors.  Pat was there with her that day and got to listen when Htoo called her Mom back in her home country to share the good news.  Htoo’s Mom is so happy and grateful for Pat’s support for her daughter.

Htoo met her husband here in Oshkosh.  When Htoo got married, she asked Pat to stand up for her in the wedding.  When Htoo and her husband were ready to buy a home, Pat put them in touch with her husband’s nephew, a realtor, who was happy to help them.  And when it was time for them to start a family, Htoo asked Pat to be with her in the delivery room along with her husband.  When their second baby came it was Pat that drove her to the hospital through a snowstorm while Dad stayed home with their older child.  Pat got to cut the umbilical cord, and then she found out that Htoo had another surprise – they named this baby Nawpattyhtoo, after Pat. (pronounced “Naw Patty To”)  She could not be more honored. 

 These days Pat and Htoo are still meeting regularly to work on conversational English – and to enjoy each other’s company.   Htoo and her husband always have snacks ready for Pat, who loves to play with the children.  She also loves to hear about their families back home.    It is heartwarming to see the relationship that these two women have built, and how much they have learned and grown together.  Thank you again Htoo and Pat for allowing us to share your story.  Please keep us updated as your journey continues.

July Volunteer Spotlight: Rosie Buser

This month we are honored to introduce Rosie Buser – one of our dedicated and reliable volunteers. Rosie first worked with us 15 years ago. Life got busy (as it tends to do) so she took a break and then in 2022 when she retired she started looking for something else interesting to do. She remembered us, and how much she had enjoyed the “multicultural atmosphere” here as well as the “general respect for people” so she reached out to get involved again.

Currently Rosie is a tutor for us, and she works as a classroom helper in Beginner English twice a week. However – if we really want to get a picture of the amazing life of service Rosie has led, we have to go back.  Rosie says she’s always felt a calling to service – she “finds it challenging and very rewarding.”   She started out by studying to become a nun in High School at a Missionary in South America.   That didn’t end up being her final path, and she started pursuing higher education instead.  While she was studying Education at UW-Whitewater she spent her summers in the rural Mountains of Mexico as a bus driver and teacher.  She was very involved in the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s, and in the 1970’s she was teaching in Houston, TX when she met her husband – who happened to be Muslim and from the Middle East.  They had three children together, and the adventures of their lives took them from Texas to India, Pakistan and Kuwait, which expanded Rosie’s language skills and involvement and experience in teaching ESL.  Rosie is fluent in Spanish and also speaks a little Arabic and Urdu.  Rosie said she has always enjoyed visiting and living in other countries because she has always been “interested in seeing how other people approach life and what they value.” 

All of these experiences lead to Rosie teaching ESL in the school district when she returned to Wisconsin. She especially loved working with the Hmong population when they immigrated to our area, describing the children as “so respectful, kind, and eager to learn.” “It really gets me going when people are eager to learn!” she added – eyes twinkling. One of her favorite memories working in the school district is when she was working at Oshkosh North, and she partnered with a teacher at Oshkosh West to introduce local students to the immigrant students. They got on a bus and rode to the other school specifically to get together in a room and just talk to each other – about their lives, interests, and stories. At the end of that, all of the students – both the Oshkosh born and immigrants students – were surprised to find out they were all pretty much the same. They had the same needs, they all liked music, they all occasionally butted heads with their parents, etc… That message – our innate sameness – is one that Rosie feels is very important. She has given dozens of presentations in her lifetime including “Refugees in Oshkosh: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” (sponsored by American Association of University Women) to share that same message with the general community here. Rosie has earned numerous honors over the years for all her efforts, but she’s nowhere near finished. At the age of 75 she just began a new project – she took a mediation class so she can volunteer as a mediator for the Winnebago County Court System. This is in addition to everything she does for us here at the Winnebago Area Literacy Council – which she described as “the joy of my life. The students, the staff, and the volunteers here are all so kind and want to learn.”  Rosie – thank you so much for sharing your time and talent with us and our learners here at Winnebago Area Literacy Council. Our community becomes stronger every day because of people like you!