Thang Tran and his wife Huynh Nguyen are familiar faces at Midland Library. The couple have become regulars at the weekly English conversation class. But on Valentine’s Day this year, they decided to spice things up. They attended Midland’s newest program: free one-on-one tutoring tailored to their individual needs.
In the weekly conversation class, language skills range so widely, Nguyen said, she wanted to try a class that would allow her to focus on her abilities.
She and Tran have lived in the United States for 39 years, she said. They took an English course at Portland Community College when they were newly arrived as refugees from Vietnam. But the couple quickly took jobs, and began a family. Nguyen, who feared her English wasn’t good enough to continue the accounting she had done back home, began a career as an electrical drafter for Portland General Electric. Tran likewise took a job that required little conversational skill, as a machinist for Boeing.
“So we didn’t have the chance to speak English very well,” Tran said. “Now in retirement, we’re trying to learn.”
Midland Library this week launched its Adult Literacy tutoring six-month pilot, the first one-on-one walk-in tutoring program for adults that focuses on topics ranging from improving reading skills and studying math, to improving English and earning a GED.
The neighborhood is one of the country's most diverse, making Midland Library “a perfect place for this,” said Carole Scholl, manager of Multnomah County Library’s adult outreach services.
Even on an evening when many people might cuddle up with someone they love, 16 volunteers turned out to lend a hand. “I think it shows an overwhelming desire to help the community, to help their neighbors,” Scholl said.
Ann Dudley, a retired elementary school teacher, wanted to offer her skills in math, reading and English.
Sam Sexton, a writer for the home-sharing website Vacasa, wanted to put his English degree to work. Also, he said, “In the wake of the elections, I think it became clear that we’ve fallen behind in civics, in giving back.”
Amy Hunter, who does public relations for outdoor gear and the town of Hood River, said she wanted to return to the volunteer work she had done for years in Berkeley. There she began tutoring a woman from Eritrea. They began working on English. Then on the woman’s citizenship process. She tutored the woman for seven years, and during that time, they grew close. So close that she was present for the birth of the woman’s child. The most wondrous things grow out of seemingly small interactions.
“It’s about that personal connection,” she said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
For more information on the tutoring program and other literacy and English classes, call 503-577-9984.