Spotlight: Our Americorps Volunteers

The AmeriCorps members serving BEACON help provide much needed support for the entire program. BEACON receives two AmeriCorps members annually through a partnership with Literacy Council of Northern Virginia (LCNV); LCNV is the manager and fiscal agent of the AmeriCorps grant. AmeriCorps strengthens communities and develops leaders through direct, team-based national and community service.

BEACON members are certified in administering the BEST Plus and CASAS language assessment systems and assist with the testing-process for over 300 adult learners each year. Their responsibilities include recruitment, assessment, placement, and teaching immigrants attending ESOL classes; in addition, they also perform administrative tasks, community outreach, staff support, and tutoring.

Trained in Social Work and having extensive experience with non-profit programs, AmeriCorps member Rachel Lipscomb brings her passion for community service to BEACON as an ESOL instructor. Teaching True Beginner, Pre-Literacy, Low-Beginner, Intermediate, and Tech classes, she helps students navigate the waters of learning a new language with the hallmark dedication that is characteristic of all BEACON volunteers.

A first-time instructor, Rachel found her position to be well-supported and equipped with an abundance of resources to accommodate her teaching efforts. Lesson plans and the Internet are essential parts of her teaching toolbox, but cultivating learning in such a diverse environment can be challenging. Songs, games, and exchanges of cultural information between students consistently provide a dynamic and fun learning environment. A favorite practice of hers is to encourage students to share anecdotes about their native culture. “Recently, for example, a student from Thailand brought chestnuts to class. Although common here, my students from China and Mexico had never seen one!” Involving the students on a simple but personal level stirs curiosity and promotes conversation, all the while speaking and practicing English.

For many, the most difficult aspect of learning English is grammar. Rachel finds that the best way to communicate proper grammar is to teach through example. Articulating sentences correctly over and over again helps the students understand proper phrasing from the start. It empowers them to know they are speaking correctly, bolstering their confidence and ability to effectively communicate within the English-speaking community.

Rachel is honored to be a part of BEACON and her students’ journeys. “Everybody here really, truly cares about the immigrants, and would do anything and everything they can to help an immigrant assimilate and succeed. I am proud to be part of an organization that is so pure in its foundation and efforts on behalf of the immigrant community. Everyone here is genuine and dedicated. Everyone here wants to help.”

Political Science and issues steeped in personal and cultural identity have always fascinated AmeriCorps volunteer Alex Abdelwahed. The son of immigrant parents from two very diverse cultures, he is intimately familiar with the communal obstacles facing non-native people, and brings to BEACON a keen understanding of immigrants faced with cultural, economic, and political challenges.
Crediting his parents, Alex is proud to say that he sees them in his students, and honors their achievements in becoming American citizens by helping to further the opportunities of other immigrants. He is quick to add that much of his success with the students comes from lessons of compassion and empathy for those facing hardships, instilled by his parents from his earliest memories.

Alex is currently teaching Low Beginner, Low Intermediate, Technology, and Citizenship, of which he is especially proud. Open and friendly, he uses body language to maintain an easygoing tone to his classes. “Sometimes the students are a little shy,” Alex explains. “Many of them make great sacrifices to attend, have several jobs, families, and some have never had any formal schooling. I never forget that. I want them to feel safe and relaxed. It’s the best kind of learning environment.”

Serving as a BEACON instructor has helped Alex recognize and bolster his own weaknesses, increasing his self-awareness and confidence. He sees the immigrants’ lives change as well. “I have one female student whose spouse had always handled their money, leaving her feeling even more challenged in this culture. In addition to her ESOL classes, she enrolled in BEACON’s 8-week financial course, and for the first time in her life, entered a bank, opened her own account, and now handles her own money.”

As Alex’s students navigate American culture and the English language, he senses their strong imperative to succeed. “It’s exhilarating to see them work hard, grow in knowledge, and watch them advance through testing,” he shares. Often his students return to share stories of learning triumph. “I was in the grocery store, and remembered that you taught me the word ‘aisle’,” said one student. “So instead of saying ‘lane 5’, I said ‘aisle 5’!”

Reflecting on his BEACON experience, Alex states, “I would 100% recommend the program. We genuinely care about the people who we serve. It’s not about money, it’s all about the people, and we want to make sure we do everything to provide the tools necessary for immigrants to succeed in all ways that matter to them.”