Jeanne Keilier at our Women and Children's May 2023 Potluck.

May Volunteer Spotlight: Jeanne Keiler

Meet our May Volunteer Spotlight: Jeanne Keiler!

Jeanne has been a volunteer with us since April of 2016, and she’s the definition of a person that never stops learning. Jeanne worked in the healthcare industry as an EEG Tech for 45 years, and when she retired she started looking for the next thing to do. She came across our organization online and because she loves to read she was immediately interested in the opportunities volunteering with a Literacy Council had to offer. Jeanne started as a tutor for us, but also signed up to get a certification from Fox Valley Technical College to teach English as a second language. During that time she began volunteering at our Women and Children’s Class in addition to her tutoring responsibilities. First she began working with just the kids, and then 1 day teaching, 1 day with the kids, and eventually she moved to just teaching our adult learners. When Covid 19 hit Jeanne started a weekly newsletter with her students, giving them one lesson a week to keep them going. When we got to that Fall she began teaching her class online. She’s very glad to be back in person with her class and loves connecting with new learners. Jeanne also teaches our Citizenship Workshops four times a year, and is happy to help as a substitute teacher in other classes whenever we ask. In her spare time she is studying Swahili.

Thank you for sharing your talent and time with us and all of your learners Jeanne! We are so lucky to have you!

Jeanne Keilier at our Women and Children's May 2023 Potluck.
Jeanne Keiler at our May Women and Children’s Potluck.
Teacher Jeanne at Women & Children’s Class.

April Learner Spotlight: Bahjat Askandar

Bahjat Askandar and his family moved to Oshkosh, WI from Iraq in 2014.

Bahjat did not know a lot of English when he arrived here. He was a skilled welder by trade back at home and prioritized learning English and working on professional skills to meet the U.S. industry standards.

He enrolled in all of the programs we offer here at the Literacy Council and later in a Welding program with Fox Valley Technical College. Upon graduation, he got a job with Generac Power Systems in Oshkosh. The company management saw his potential and recognized his professional expertise. They greatly encouraged and supported Bahjat in improving his English communication skills so he could be promoted to the Supervisory position in his department. With this goal in mind, Bahjat returned to the Literacy Council and started working with one on one with a tutor to achieve his goal. All his effort and dedication paid off – this year he got a promotion and is now working as a supervisor in a welding department at Generac. Having improved his financial situation, Bahjat saved enough money to buy his own house for the family.

His current goal is to send his elder daughter to college. She dreams to be an Immigration Attorney. We wish Bahjat and his loved ones all the best, and congratulations on your success!

March Volunteer Spotlight: Michele Sliwicki

Meet our March Volunteer Spotlight: Michele Sliwicki!

Michele has been a volunteer with us for 15 years this month! She is currently tutoring 8 different learners and runs the children’s classroom at our Women and Children’s English Class. Michele is beloved by our learners and their children alike – the Mom’s in our program are at ease knowing their kids are with her while they attend their own classes. When I interviewed a learner that used to attend Women and Children’s she said that entering regular preschool was hard for her son, because according to him, “school is fine, but it’s not as fun as Michele School!” Michele doesn’t just lead class and tutor – she helps in every way that she can. She helps lead our citizenship workshops, she has helped with data entry when we were shorthanded, she assists learners with making doctor appointments AND transports them to those appointments, she signs all of our Women & Children’s learners up for the back to school fair and Toys for Tots. She has helped her students apply for mortgages, green cards, and Habitat for Humanity houses. And if that list isn’t enough – Michele ALSO volunteers at World Relief!

In previous years Michele was a computer programmer and at times worked inside the home to care for her children. Her personal passions include genealogy, her family, and reading.

Michele – thank you SO MUCH for everything you do for our organization and learners. Your generosity is inspiring for all of us!

Teacher Michele reading today’s story!
Animal identification at Women And Children’s English Class
Eating together at the quarterly Women and Children’s Potluck
Dress up play time plus shapes at Michele School!

February Learner Spotlight: Terza Chol

Meet Terza Chol!  Terza and her family are originally from Sudan/South Sudan, and her mother moved their family to Egypt when she was only 9 to escape the conflict in their home land.  Terza’s Father and two of her sisters did not come to Egypt with them, so her Mother had to support Terza, her 2 sisters and 2 bothers in Egypt on her own.  Her Mother worked very hard – regularly putting in 12 hour shifts in large part so she could pay to send the kids to school – even for refugees an education is not free in Egypt.  Terza mentioned that even when the kids were able to afford to go to school, the education was not great.  Terza “had a lot of dreams growing up, but no opportunities to pursue those dreams.”  Without a parent around there was no one to encourage success in education, and because of the cost she was only able to attend intermittently.  For the next five years life continued much the same – her mother continued to apply to the UN for resettlement, the kids went to school off and on, and Terza had her own son.  At that point Terza’s mother went back to Sudan to visit the two daughters she had left behind, and was unable to return to Egypt.  That left Terza in charge of working to pay for her siblings to attend school, as well as caring for her own infant son. 

She worked in housekeeping, they lived in refugee housing in Cairo, and every chance she got she went to the UN to apply for refugee assistance.  Finally in 2015, Terza and her siblings were approved to start the resettlement process.  They went through 6 rounds of interviews, and every time they got close to resettlement things would get delayed.  Finally they were told that they would get a call sometime in the next 2-3 months – they HAD to answer that phone call, or they would be passed up.  Terza anxiously kept her phone on her until that call came.  When the call finally did come, she was told that she and her sisters were approved for resettlement – but her brother had turned 18 during this time, which changed his status. He would require further background checks.  They could either let Terza, her sisters and her sons – she now had 3 – go ahead and be settled in America while her bother would stay behind, OR they could wait for him.  Terza explained that Egypt was a very dangerous place for Sudanese men at the time – she didn’t want to leave her brother behind because she feared for his safety.  As a family they decided to wait – 3 more months went by, conditions continued to get more dangerous for their family, and no progress was made on her brothers background checks.  Her brother sat Terza down and encouraged her to go on without him.  He wanted his nephews to be safe and be assured of an education.  He told her he would follow as soon as possible.  In July of 2017 Terza, her three sons, her sister Maggie and her sister Nya boarded a plane to New York City.  From New York they flew to Chicago, and then on to Appleton.  All six of them were moved into a two bedroom apartment here, and they started over.  Just one month later – August of 2017, they received a call that their brother was not going to be joining them – he had been murdered in Cairo.

Terza was sick with guilt – she said during that time she spent a lot of time crying.  She was only able to pull through because she had to be strong for her boys.  Those early days here were hard – everyone missed her brother, they all knew very little English, it was hard to get to the grocery store and back on the bus, it was colder than anything they had ever experienced, and they had very little other than mattresses on the floor.  She said even though it was hard, every day she told herself she “just had to make things a little bit better for the kids.”  They were in school – and for that she was extremely happy and felt blessed.  She felt grateful that every morning the bus driver would smile at her and say “Good Morning.”  Unlike in Egypt, people here were generally nice to her, and tried to help them.  She started working in housekeeping at a hotel, got signed up for English classes at Fox Valley tech, and received a tutor here at Winnebago Area Literacy Council.  She worked hard to get her drivers license, saved up to buy a car, and moved into another apartment.  She got a new job in housekeeping at Aurora Medical Center, and her manager there encouraged and helped her to apply to the Habitat for Humanity program to get a house for herself and the boys.  She was approved!  Terza and her family will be moving into their new house next year.  During this time she also passed her fifth year in the United States, and she took her citizenship exam – and passed!  She is now working on the paperwork to get her sons citizenship.  She said she always wanted to work hard for her boys – but the encouragement she has received along the way made it easier.  Her tutors here believed in her, and told her if she worked hard she would succeed – and they were right.  Terza cannot wait to move into their new house, and recently found out that her new neighbor will actually be a friend of hers – they lived next to each other when they originally moved here, and used to cook for each other frequently.  It’s been a long road, but thanks to her hard work and perseverance Terza and her boys have a bright future ahead of them.

January Volunteer Spotlight: Valerie Williams

This year marks the 10th year of Valerie Williams volunteering with WALC!

Val has been an awesome volunteer at our Women and Children’s program – formerly called Family Literature. For the past 10 years, she has been attending the Women and Children classes regularly every Tuesday and Thursday. During class she holds babies and plays with children so their mothers can focus on learning with no concerns about their little ones. She does puzzles, makes play-doh with the kids, organizes puppet shows, reads to the preschoolers, and much more. One of her favorite stories to tell the kids is of a doll she had donated to the program. The doll was her daughter’s, and the clothes on the doll were made by Val herself. Val has an instant comforting rapport with the kids – they love and trust her the second they see her, and she loves the kids unconditionally. Another passion Val enjoys is gardening – and she often brings fruit and vegetables from her large garden to share with the women in class.

Everyone at the Winnebago Area Literacy Council would like to thank Val for all that she has done for us and for the positive impact she has brought to the families she has helped – thank you Val!

December Learner Spotlight: Neekar Kurdy

This month we are thrilled to be celebrating Neekar Kurdy. Neekar came to us from Iraq and has been with the Winnebago Area Literacy Council since 2010. She has taken part in our English Classes, 1-1 tutoring, Women & Children’s classes AND is now a part of our Road to Work program. When Neekar’s family first relocated to Oshkosh she had to walk 45 minutes to the bus to bring her two small children to the library. Every weekend she would make the long trek and spend 5 hours trying to teach herself English while her children played. Then she found the Winnebago Area Literacy Council and everything started to change. She told me that when she first arrived in the United States “it felt like something had been pulled over my eyes and I couldn’t see any opportunities. But I learned that if you’re are nice, kind, helpful and a hard worker, another door will open for you.” That door was opened even wider when one of our most dedicated volunteers – Michelle – began taking Neekar and her children to Women and Children’s class. Her son calls it “Michelle School”, and told his pre-K teacher that “this school is pretty nice, but not as nice as Michelle School”.

Neekar began studying for her drivers license exam along with learning English, and passed on her first try. She would listen to audiobooks at night in order to study for her Citizenship test without waking her family. After 5 years in the United States she passed that test on the first try as well. Neekar also told me that even though the pandemic was hard for everyone, it opened up opportunities for her. Fox Technical College moved their English Classes online, so now she can take English Classes at night while still working full time. This month Neekar is celebrating her 90 day anniversary in her position at Christian Community Childcare Center which she found through our Road to Work Program. She loves her job – where she works with babies and toddlers. Through this job she is now taking Early Education classes online in addition to her English Classes! She told me she is constantly encouraging her friends to never give up, and to take any opportunities they can for education.

Neekar – your hardwork, dedication and positive attitude are truly an inspiration to all of us. Congratulations on all of your accomplishments over the last 13 years, and on 90 days at your job!

November Volunteer Spotlight:  Shari Englund

Volunteer Shari Englund exudes the kindness and competence that all of us strive to imitate. Her care and enthusiasm for refugees and immigrants from across the globe began even before she stepped into the Beginning English classroom. As most learners don’t drive, she makes multiple stops on her way in to pick up individuals and families at their homes. With the warmth of a good friend, she drives them to the library and shepherds them into the classroom. 

Attentive and energetic, Shari makes each person feel special and welcome during our 2 hour class. She seats herself where she can help the most: guiding newcomers in writing the alphabet, taking advanced students for reading lessons, keeping little children busy while parents practice phonics or pronunciation. 

But she also does so very much more! She adjusts to the changing pace of the class and is quick to help dramatize lessons in banking or shopping or weather.  Always warm and attentive, Shari is game for anything and everything. Shari is simply a marvel. The Literacy Council is so lucky to have her!Thank you so much for everything you do Shari!