Imagine raising five children.
Whether you’re a parent or not, you can conjure images of what it means to raise a large family.
Now, imagine that your five children all speak fluent English—but you don’t. And that everyone in your family is a U.S. citizen—but you aren’t.
This was Lourdes Castelan’s experience, until she stepped forward and asked for help from Literacy DuPage. She wanted two things: to be more involved in her children’s education, and to earn her citizenship.
“I knew I needed to improve my English,” she said. “With these two goals in mind, I called Literacy DuPage.”
We matched Lourdes with a Literacy DuPage volunteer tutor.
“What a way to begin!” said Lynn Cornwell, who had just completed tutor training. “[Lourdes] is the definition of tenacity, grit, and strength. I learned very quickly how motivated she was. Earning her citizenship was her priority. Failing to do so was not an option.”
Beginning in May 2016, Lourdes and Lynn began meeting for two hours each week. Their first challenge: understanding each other. Lynn doesn’t speak Spanish. (Literacy DuPage tutors need not know any language other than English.) As it turns out, this was an advantage.
“Probably what was the most helpful of all was the opportunity to talk in English for two hours every week about life,” said Lourdes.
Beyond small talk, the pair found practical ways to cover subjects included in the citizenship exam.
“[Lourdes] made watching the news on TV part of her daily routine,” said Lynn. “Having the election campaign of 2016 coincide with this experience was certainly a benefit.”
Learning about US government, history, and geography wasn’t easy, but Lourdes was determined.
“It was a challenge,” she said. “During difficult and busy days, I had to push myself and dig deep. This is something I wanted to do for myself.”
After 10 months of tutoring, Lourdes took the citizenship exam.
“I will never forget the moment Lourdes sent me the message that she had passed her citizenship test,” said Lynn. “I’m not sure I have ever experienced the emotions I felt that day. Simply awesome!”
Lourdes, on the other hand, knows exactly how she feels about learning English and becoming a U.S. citizen—and she has the words to say it:
“I feel more confident speaking in English in public about most topics. I am a participant now rather than an outsider. Walls have been knocked down. I am more involved with my children’s school and their schoolwork. My children all speak English with each other, and now I can too! I feel proud. I want my children to understand how important hard work is and how education is one of the most important gifts you can give to yourself. No one can take it away from you.”
Empowered to speak English, Lourdes is confident and proud. And as a graduate of the Literacy DuPage tutoring program, she feels driven to keep learning.
“I would like to continue to work on my English reading and writing skills,” she said. “Perhaps, I will take classes at my local community college.”