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Interview With A Volunteer -Deborah Thomas-English Teacher


As you may already know, our beloved volunteer teachers are the backbone of Project Light. They dedicate their time, knowledge, and energy to teaching adults the English skills necessary for achieving their dreams in America.


Today we would like to introduce one of our most dedicated volunteers. Deborah has been with us at Project Light for five years, yes, five years of helping shape people’s lives. This year she is teaching English Level 101 in the mornings.


Miss Thomas first found out about our program at a Manatee Retired Educators Meeting, at that time, Chris McCormick the previous Executive Director, was giving a talk about Project Light and expressed the need for volunteer teachers. The idea of sharing her experience and knowledge in order to help immigrant adults find success in a new country appealed to her.


“Volunteering at Project Light was the right choice for me because I had taught school for 33 years and had the skills. I’ve always liked helping people learn, and there was a need…and I was curious!”


Deborah quickly found her place and purpose in the Project Light family and consequently in her community.


“What I like most about this non-profit is the people—the students, the staff, and the board members. Also, it’s a chance to give back to my community—helping adult students become proficient in English means they can be more productive in our community. The hours work for me.”


Of course, I had to ask Deborah about a student that stood out to her, after 5 years of teaching adults, surely she would have some stories to share.


“A student that stands out: Sainvilus from Haiti. Middle-aged man who was so diligent about attending. He worked a full-time night shift job, cared for his wife who has major health issues and would still get to morning class having had little sleep. Unfortunately, he is not back this year. I think carrying the full load of working and caring for his wife got to be all he could handle.”



Sadly we have seen this situation more than once in our endeavors, our students lead complicated lives, and many times these complications come in the way of their progress. More often than not, the students do return to our classes and continue their education. (Read Anna’s story here) We hope to see Sainvilus return and keep working on his dreams.


When asked about her overall experience teaching at Project Light, Deborah mentioned the perks of working with adult students.


“ My overall experience as a volunteer teacher at Project Light has been a good one. I’ve always enjoyed helping others learn. And I enjoy meeting new people—students and staff. When I taught school, I taught children. Now I’m teaching adults and using many of the same skills. With adults, I don’t have discipline problems, and I don’t have to deal with the parents! (smile)”


Five years of volunteering with our non-profit definitely had an impact on Deborah’s outlook on life and her community.


“Project Light has raised my consciousness more about what resources this community has (or doesn’t have) to help people, who migrate to the U.S., to assimilate. They want the same things we want—a happy life enjoying family and friends; to be gainfully employed to provide for the family; an education for themselves and children; good health care, etc.”


Lastly, I had to ask if she would recommend this experience to anyone, and her answer was unequivocal YES!


“Yes! I would recommend Project Light to someone looking for a volunteer opportunity. In fact, I’m always talking about Project Light to any and everyone I think might be interested.”