National Volunteer Apprecitiation Week
April 7 – April 13
It’s that time again…the time where every staff member says “Only one? There are so many!”
That’s because it’s National Volunteer Appreciation Week and staff members are asked to showcase just one of the 200+ volunteers that make Seeds a special place. It’s a nearly impossible task because every volunteer makes a huge impact on the organization and on the lives of the students.
This week, we’ll showcase just a few of these important people on social media. Please note, the selection of just one by each staff member was done under extreme protest. In fact, some flat out refused, slipping in more than one submission. They wanted to thank each and every one of you, but there simply aren’t enough hours in the day. Please know that without you, Seeds would not exist.
“I’ve seen and met angels wearing the disguise of ordinary people living ordinary lives.”
~ Tracy Chapman
Working behind the scenes, Alex is my tech guru and he’s been generous with sharing his knowledge with me. As a member of the Community Relations Committee, he pulled monthly SEO reports from our website and then explained why various metrics were good and bad…sometimes explaining the same thing several times. (His patience is admirable!) In addition to pulling and analyzing reports, he currently manages our Google Ad Words Grant, and for anyone that deals with the ever-changing algorithms of online advertising, that’s no small feat. He’s researched various software platforms and made informed recommendations, and because he’s a tech professional by trade, he does it in a fraction of the time it would take me.
But what’s really great about Alex is that he’s always smiling and happy to help. Even though he volunteers with several organizations (the pups at the APL have a dedicated supporter!), he always makes time for Seeds. He’s an all-around great guy and Seeds is lucky to have him. I’m so grateful Alex is on my team!
Ed had been working with a student who is actually a high school graduate. As he read with her, he identified that something was missing. While he had been able to help her make progress, he felt he could move her further along with a little assistance. A staff member modeled how to assess her phonics skills, and with just a few minutes of modeling Ed was able to step in and take over the assessment. We were able to identify that she did need help with phonics. Again, after just a few minutes of modeling, he was able to step in and help her on the road to developing phonics skills.
I think what was really outstanding was his openness to feedback; putting his own ego aside to get the help that the student really needed. Since then, Ed has participated in the training to learn how to assess students’ fluency and phonics skills. Ed has done many assessments for us. He has become our go-to person for students who are beginning or struggling readers. He is very encouraging and supportive, and the students feel safe working with him. They don’t feel judgment. Ed purchased a book that was designed for beginning adult readers, and he helped this student read all the way through the book. He then purchased a second copy of the book for our West Side location. Ed has volunteered to speak and share his story with other tutors as we work to recruit more of our current tutors to help with beginning and struggling readers. (You can read more about Ed here.)
With patience and kindness, Eileen D’Amato helps a student work on fractions one day in class. Although the student makes a mistake while reducing, Eileen doesn’t say anything right away. She waits for just a moment longer and watches the student’s expression change as she realizes her own mistake. They both smile and at the end of class, the student asks Eileen if she’ll be back on Wednesday. Without hesitating, Eileen changes her usual tutoring time that week so that she can be there on Wednesday.
For the last four years, Eileen has been such a wonderfully calm and compassionate presence in the Seeds of Literacy classroom. “She takes her time with us, helps us out, has a lot of patience, and her encouragement is so great,” explains Demetrius P., a student who often works with Eileen on Language Arts. Through her gentle encouragement, Eileen helps students feel comfortable and confident enough to grow and learn. One of the things Eileen has learned over her years of tutoring is to “be patient” and “give students time to self-correct” because one of the best things is to see students have that moment when they truly “get it” and feel like they can succeed on their own. Thank you for being part of our Seeds family, Eileen; we couldn’t do this without you!
For more than two years, I have seen Dolores work with so many students that really struggled with mathematical solutions. I’ve seen that with her, they wind up understanding math in a instant. Dolores is the guru of math because she can explain and break down any problem for any student to solve. She even helped me with probability during my college summer semester a year ago. She is most definitely our go-to math tutor, and the best math teacher I have ever observed . For students who need help solving basic math to higher math solutions, she is the BEST!!!! (You can read more about Dolores here.)
During my time at Seeds, I’ve had the pleasure of working with many amazing tutors. However, I want to spend a few moments focusing on one in particular. Beverly Fleming has been a mainstay at Seeds for six years. In that time, she’s exemplified all the traits a tutor needs: patience, compassion, and humor. But more than that, she brings a warmth and willingness to work through just about anything. In her time with us, Beverly has become the go-to tutor, and a mentor, for several of our students.
One student in particular comes to mind: a young woman struggling with learning disabilities, child-care issues, and her own lack of self-confidence. On more than one occasion, other tutors told me “She’s bright, but I don’t think she has the focus to make it.” But when I paired the young woman with Beverly, there was never any expression of doubt. She genuinely believed that this student would succeed. Over the next few years, the two of them worked on everything together: science, social studies, and every type of math we offer. And while it took some time, and a lot of hard work, this student finally earned her diploma in 2017. I consider her graduation one of the highlights of my time at Seeds, and when I remember it, I’m certain that it wouldn’t have happened without Beverly’s firm, steady hand.
Since then, other students have taken the young woman’s place, beginning each Tuesday afternoon with their eyes eagerly watching the tutor sign-in table. I understand why. Beverly not only imparts knowledge, she helps students develop a self-confidence and resolve that is truly life-changing. I’m thankful for all that she’s given us over the years, and I desperately hope she never finds anything more engaging to do on Tuesday afternoons.
There’s a concept known as cura personalis in the Igantian-Jesuit tradition of the Catholic Church. It translates to “care for the whole person.” Fred Benda, a Jesuit priest living down the road at St. Ignatius, believes Seeds embraces this concept.
“In one sense, tutoring is just part of what we offer them,” says Fred. “Seeds offers so much info on healthcare, career opportunities, coffee and food.” He even cited celebrations like Pi Day as ways that Seeds strives to care for students’ well-being as well as support their academic goals.
Before tutoring at Seeds, Fred was a college instructor at a number of Jesuit colleges: Xavier, Detroit Mercy, and John Carroll. He taught English literature, Latin, mythology, and other subjects in the classics. About two years ago, he found a notice in the St. Patrick’s church bulletin advertising tutoring at Seeds. “Whenever you’re teaching, you end up tutoring,” says Fred. “I figured I had the skills.”
Fred began tutoring around the time Seeds’ East Side location opened. When he heard they needed tutors, he heeded the call. Now he’s counted among the small band of tutors who travel to both sides of town. He averages three days a week at Seeds: “It’s so flexible,” he says.
Fred has found tutoring at Seeds to be a fulfilling experience. “Everybody—tutors, staff, administrators—is very upbeat. And the students are too.” His experience working with our adult learners has been more rewarding than any other age group he’s worked with. “They’re much more highly motivated and serious.” It makes them, he says, “a pleasure to teach.”
Thank you, Fred!
Since I started working at Seeds in September, there have been 270 classes adding up to 540 hours of instructional time. During this span, I have been blessed to work alongside Bob and Sharon Vejdovec, two tutors who give more of themselves than anyone could imagine and who have been indescribably helpful in acclimating me to Seeds.
Just how giving and helpful are Bob and Sharon? Consider this: Of the 270 classes that have been held since my employment, these two people have tutored at 180 of them. Of the 540 instructional hours, they have worked 360 of them (that’s 2/3 or 66.6% of the time, for our students who are working on fractions and percents). However, the numbers delve deeper when you consider that between the afternoon and evening sessions, Bob and Sharon remain fixed in the classroom to help students whose schedules prevent them from attending class times, only allowing for the three hours in between.
What this amounts to is an additional 270 hours of volunteer tutoring, which brings their hours to 360 + 270 (ask one of our students to tell you the total).
However, while numbers and data are impressive, they are no substitute for painting a picture of what Bob and Sharon do for Seeds, our students, and me. Bob and Sharon tutor in the most innovative and helpful ways, with retired accountant Bob pulling his own tax and bank information to provide real world help to a student working on interest rates, or retired teacher and principal Sharon sharing crossword puzzles and other learning games to reinforce a lesson for another student.
In addition to methodology, these two help our students by building each one up, making him or her feel positive, encouraging with a few words or just a smile, and providing a calm and inviting space from which to learn. For myself, I don’t think I would have learned where to find all the packets or supplies if it weren’t for Sharon; likewise, I may not have survived those hectic nights with a dozen students and two tutors if not for Sharon and Bob zipping around the room like a speed dating meet-up, moving from table to table with grace and kindness, helping in an individualized way.
I was taught to help in grade school; Sister Rosalyn made us, regardless of grade level, pitch in and do community service or social justice. She drilled the words from Matthew 25 into our heads and hearts, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.” The spirit of giving to and doing for others was instilled in me then, but never in my 40 plus years have I seen it embodied and tangible like it is in Bob and Sharon Vejdovec.
[Editor’s Note: People say that everyone at Seeds is like family. In this case, we really are! Sharon and Bob are the actual aunt and uncle of Seeds’ staffer Katie. But since Seeds also has both a Sharon (Farrer) and Bob (McFeeley) on staff, it is with fondness that most of us have adopted the monikers “aunt” and “uncle” to differentiate the Vejdovecs from the staffers by the same name.
The Vejdovecs joined us at the urging of their friend and incredible tutor, retired educator Mary Pat Hable. Mary Pat has given us the priceless gift of not only her own time, but theirs as well. Seeds East is delighted to have all three of them!]
Thoughtful, diplomatic, and possessor of a wry sense of humor: Brooke Emmel brings these terrific traits to the Seeds’ Board of Directors and the Fund Development Committee. Her organization and quiet enthusiasm propel ideas into action, and she willingly stretches her comfort level to help raise funds for our students. Brooke has worked behind-the-scenes for several successful fundraising events, increased awareness of Seeds at her workplace, and even celebrated her birthday with a Facebook fundraising campaign to benefit Seeds students.
Brooke credits her grandmother, Joan Shaffer Johnson, for instilling her love of reading and learning. An avid reader, Brooke is a proud member of the Barbara Pym Society.
Last fall, Pat Fernberg began tutoring at Seeds after hearing about the program in a church bulletin. Given her demanding career, the flexibility offered by Seeds of Literacy was an important factor in her decision to become a tutor here. Since becoming a tutor, it is the variety of students and the range of needs that she has found to be the most surprising aspect of Seeds of Literacy. Pat says she is continuously inspired by the motivation of our students, despite all the difficulties they face, to accomplish their goals. She mentions how important it is to relate what the students are studying to the practical realities of their lives. She recalls an instance where she was working with a student who was having a difficult time with fractions. Knowing that he worked in a restaurant, Pat made a comparison between working with fractions and adjusting various recipes in his job. She recalls that after making this connection it was almost as if a light-bulb went off, and you could see that he was much more confident with fractions going forward.
Pat says that she grew up with prodigious readers as parents, who not only inspired her love of reading, but also always encouraged her to do as much good as she could for people. She similarly recalls having an English teacher growing up who suggested she begin tutoring in a Head Start program throughout high-school. It was during this early experience with tutoring where Pat learned that the best way to help students is by first learning about the things that matter most to them and relating their studies to their everyday lives. She has carried this desire of understanding and a dedication to helping others throughout her life.
Her consistency, patience, and kindness make Pat Fernberg a cherished tutor here at Seeds West.
For a year and a half, Lisa Isham has been a valuable tutor here at Seeds.
She says she found out about our program while looking for volunteer opportunities after completing graduate school. Given that it allowed her to give back to her community while pursuing her passion for teaching, Lisa decided to try tutoring at Seeds of Literacy. She says she enjoys being a tutor here because it allows her to teach without being in a traditional classroom setting. And, one thing that surprised her since joining, was how attached she would become to the students, noting that she even feels guilty if she skips her regular tutoring schedule.
It is Lisa’s dedication to our students, and her constant positive attitude that make her such a treasure.
“I was not a particularly good student in school,” Terry says. “However, when I matured and was willing to ask for help, I improved dramatically.” Terrell (Terry) Pruitt, the Assistant Commissioner of Public Works for the City of Cleveland, understands that the path to success is not defined by the person or student you were but by a vision of whom you want to be.
Terry came to Seeds of Literacy to help students whose maturity, bravery, and determination motivated them to step through our doors and seek help in guiding them along their path. He draws from his own experience to empathize and connect with our students, and this makes him a comforting presence in the classroom.
According to Dontez Graham, a student with whom Mr. Pruitt has worked, “Terry is encouraging. He shows you how to do something, works through it with you, then has you do it on your own.” Whether he is working through fractions, helping with subject-verb agreement, or discussing economic systems, Terry nurtures Seeds of Literacy students with love and professionalism that has men, like Dontez, say, “All I know is that I look forward to seeing him every Thursday.”
When it is Thursday, Terrell Pruitt will be found utilizing his own experience, leadership, and caring nature to help Seeds’ students recognize their potential future and take steps to make that future happen.
Volunteer Coordinator Sharon Farrer worked with students on a special video for the tutors.
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