The Mountain Area Literacy Council recently celebrated their 25th anniversary with dinner, cake, and a proclamation from the Madera County Board of Supervisors. In the last 25 years, MALCo has helped more than 800 people become better English speakers and expand their professional opportunities.
MALCo was founded in 1987 by Virginia Dane, who had an interest in literacy, and Sue Rhu, Oakhurst library manager at the time. They wanted to teach English language literacy so that they could speak, read and write it proficiently. Since then, there have been about 30 trained volunteers at a time offering free, one-on-one, tutoring twice a week. In the last fiscal year, volunteers put in more than 2,000 volunteer hours.
Agnes Frye is one of those tutors who has been volunteering her time since 2000.
"They're all adults and a joy to teach because they want to be there," Frye said.
Frye's first student was Jazmine Jones. Jones had been in the United States only a month when she joined MALCo in 2000. Originally from Columbia, Jones and her husband met when he was in Columbia on business. They were married three years later, but after a few years decided to move to the U.S. because of kidnappings occurring all around them.
Frye and Jones began working together, but Jones was frustrated -- she couldn't even go to the grocery store alone because of her limited English. So Frye took Jones to the grocery store for their next tutoring session so she could learn the names of all the fruits and vegetables. It was a happy day for Jones -- who holds a masters degree -- when she could go to the grocery store alone and ask for a plastic bag.
After three years of tutoring, Jones passed all four English levels and graduated from the program. However she gained more than just the language.
"Agnes was my teacher, but now is my best friend," Jones said, commenting on how they still meet for lunch.
Jones said what she appreciated about MALCo was being able to have a friendship with her teacher, having one-on-one tutoring, and good study materials. Because the English books are about life in the U.S., she said she was also able learn about way of life here and has since become a U.S. citizen.
Frye isn't the only one to have gained a friend through her volunteerism.
"It's more than just studying and meeting once a week," said Harley Frye, who is now retired, but tutored a student for three years, seeing him rise from a line cook to a manager. "We've become friends and he's a neighbor. Getting to know him on a personal basis was a big benefit to me."
Tutors become involved for a variety of reasons. Eleanor Hughes' reason -- she was bored. Hughes didn't know what to do with herself after moving to the area from Los Angeles. There was no department store, no traffic signal, no noise -- all things she missed. So when she saw an ad for MALCo in the newspaper, she decided to go to a meeting and hasn't missed one since -- 23 years later.
"I guess I just enjoy teaching," said Hughes, who has helped between 20 and 30 students since she began volunteering. "They're grateful the rest of their lives."
Jim Weiss' reason for joining was a little different.
"I joined because my wife wanted to get me out of the house," Weiss said, laughing.
After reading about the program, she took a flyer home to him so he went to a meeting. By his second month volunteering, he was already president and remained so for three years.
"I enjoyed doing it," Weiss said. "Pretty soon you get involved in their life and you're in constant touch on the phone. Then they're sharing their life with you."
MALCo is a member of ProLiteracy, the largest adult literacy organization in the United States. It is an all volunteer, non-profit organization funded through the support of area businesses, community service organizations, individual benefactors and council fundraising activities.
Details: (559) 683-1456 (English) or (559) 683-1457 (Spanish) or firstname.lastname@example.org. Send letters and donations to MALCo, P.O. Box 2074, Oakhurst, CA 93644.