BEACON Summer 2019 Newsletter

Celebrating BEACON Volunteers

In June, BEACON for Adult Literacy staff, board members, volunteers, and Sisters from our founding organization (the Benedictine Sisters of Virginia) came together over food and fun at a Volunteer Appreciation Picnic to celebrate the incredible difference our BEACON volunteers make in helping our students further their life goals. Jessica Ng-Chow, BEACON Volunteer Coordinator, shares why the event was significant: “Our volunteers do so much for our program and it is so important for us to show them how much we truly appreciate all their hard work. We also want our volunteers to have a chance to come together and celebrate each other’s contributions to BEACON’s success.”

The picnic was held at Occoquan Forest Park with over 50 people in attendance. Jessica and BEACON Executive Director Jen Mora Zuniga presented several recognition awards. Cari Carter received the Volunteer of the Year award, Jamie Schultz was recognized as Board Member of the Year, and Jim Connal, Kim Prendergast, and Xia Willet were recognized as the founding members of the Knowledge Network (an incredible new resource available to support instruction). Special recognition was awarded to volunteers with over 5 years of service and volunteers who have donated over 500 hours.

Jessica also shared at the event: “As an ESOL learner myself, I want you to know that your contributions will be remembered for years to come. To this day, I still remember how much my teachers helped me and cared for me. I know that all of our learners feel the same way about you! Thank you for the incredible impact that you are making. No contribution is too small and no contribution has gone unnoticed.”

All those who were in attendance enjoyed great food and great company, and celebrated an incredible year of successful support for our BEACON students. One volunteer shared: “My husband and I had such a nice time at Saturday’s picnic. Cari Carter (pictured above) and I both feel the continuous appreciation from you. Between your thanks and that from the students, our hearts are always full.”

More than 130 volunteers donate more than 10,000 volunteer hours each year. Eighty-seven volunteer instructors provide three trimesters annually of morning and evening language and citizenship preparation instruction classes at four locations. Classes meet two or three times a week. For information about our upcoming fall classes, visit our website.

Working Towards Citizenship

As we celebrated the founding of our beautiful nation this Fourth of July, BEACON proudly celebrated alongside the 14 BEACON students who became new U.S. Citizens this past year. Becoming a citizen is a long and difficult process. The application cost is $725 and wait times in the Northern Virginia area have been well over a year. The application is 20 pages long, requests a significant amount of personal information, and evaluates whether the applicant is a good, moral person. To pass the Citizenship test students prepare by studying the 100 potential questions about the history and civics of the U.S. (They will be asked up to 10 questions and must answer six correctly to pass. Test your own knowledge here). As part of the English test, they have to successfully read a sentence, write a sentence, and answer questions about their application. Throughout the entire interview, applicants must also demonstrate a sufficient level of speaking skills.

This year, because of the political climate, BEACON staff have seen an increase in students who have attempted to take the test in haste, applying before their language skills are sufficient. As a result, the staff and volunteers developed information sessions (through a citizenship panel made up of an immigration attorney, a student who has passed the test previously, and a volunteer citizenship class teacher) to help inform students about the process. BEACON also provides individualized tutoring for students who have a test coming up and need additional support.

Here are a couple of our proud new U.S. Citizens’ stories:

Hedayah is from Afghanistan and never had the opportunity to go to school. In August, she tested at a High Beginner speaking level, but her reading was at the lowest level. She was placed in a True Beginner class to help her improve her reading skills. In January, she approached BEACON staff about Citizenship classes. She and her teachers were concerned that her speaking and reading skills would pose a challenge. Hedayah continued to take her English classes three days a week and began to work with a tutor twice a week. All of her incredible determination paid off and she passed her test!

Maximina is from Honduras and has been in the United States for eight years. She’s been a student in the True Beginner class, three days a week since August 2018 and recently shared with staff that she failed her Citizenship test. With less than a month and a half before her re-test, BEACON immediately began a search to find a tutor who could meet with Maximina two days a week and help her prepare to try again. She woke up every morning at 4:30 to study. She was so nervous June 6th at her re-test that her hands were sweaty and she was trembling.

The great news is that not only did Maximina pass, but she had her swearing-in ceremony June 6th and officially became a U.S. Citizen. Maximina shared that what helped her the most were BEACON’s classes. The English classes helped her improve her speaking, reading and writing, and the tutor helped push her and keep her motivated. She’s most excited about the opportunity to vote.

Do you know someone preparing to study for citizenship? Take it from Huda & Alaa: “Believe me, BEACON is where you want to go!”

Huda and Alaa came to the U.S. from Iraq five years ago to be with their family.

The couple gives BEACON for Adult Literacy 100% of the credit for their success in passing the citizenship test. They explained that they tried taking citizenship classes elsewhere prior to settling on BEACON, but found the courses lacked structure, so they did not feel they could make progress. In sharing about the BEACON citizenship test preparation classes taken with their teacher, Mr. Jeff, Alaa said, “He’s a perfect teacher. He is great at teaching everything, especially civics and the questions from [the] application. He does not only give us information but also explains everything, like the different branches of the government. I still remember everything because he has a way to help you learn and remember everything, not just memorizing it. He is very smart.”

Huda is a stay-at-home mom who says she especially benefited from the class because of the interaction she got with the teacher and her classmates. She shared that, for her, the class was so much more than teaching a book; it helped her stay focused on the test, improve her listening skills, and practice reading and writing.

Huda and Alaa’s son also took and passed the test and participated with them in the swearing-in ceremony on June 22. Now, Alaa and Huda can’t wait to continue taking English classes in the fall to improve their English.

To those considering taking the classes to study for the citizenship test through BEACON, Alaa says, “Believe me, I recommend it. If you go to Mr. Jeff, you will pass the test. BEACON is where you want to go.”

Meet a BEACON volunteer instructor

Monica Moore, BEACON volunteer citizenship instructor, shares why she volunteers with BEACON and why the program is so important. “Why is BEACON important? To make it an easier journey for [students] here in the United States. To help them learn how to speak English and to become contributing members of society.”

Watch Monica’s video here or on our Facebook page.