Volunteer Spotlight

Volunteer Spotlight

Volunteers are integral to the work of Learning In Style School (LIS). Each gives much needed help with his or her remarkable experience and willingness to pitch in where needed. LIS volunteers serve as assistants in the English classrooms, the computer lab, the math lab, the citizenship classes, the Peace Garden and the Children’s Room.

Martha O’Toole, who teaches citizenship classes at LIS, embodies the passion and dedication of our volunteers. Below is a little bit more information about Martha and the important work she does.

Length of Time Volunteering: Past six years Background: Social Worker; Attorney for the Department of Human Services, Minnesota Senate Volunteer Focus: Teaches citizenship courses at LIS and helps create the library for the Children’s Room

Volunteers are critical to the success of Learning In Style. Martha O’Toole, who has been teaching citizenship classes there for the last six years, has made a remarkable difference in the lives of the students who want to become citizens.

To become a citizen, students have one interview where they must demonstrate the ability to speak, read and write English and answer ten out of a hundred randomly chosen questions about United States Government and history. In addition, they must pay $680.00 to apply to take the test.

Martha makes sure students are as ready as possible. Once a week she teaches a citizen prep class. The class starts with students chatting with each other (great practice for the interview) and then focuses on the citizenship questions they may be asked and the writing portion of the interview.

Martha makes sure they know the answers to the questions, but also tries to relate the questions to experiences students may have had in their own countries. It takes approximately one year for a student to be ready to take the test.

For Martha, teaching is a passion — she particularly likes teaching adult learners at LIS. The environment is warm and welcoming, the staff is incredibly skilled and the focus on the student’s success can be felt in every classroom.

What motivates students to become citizens? According to Martha, there are three reasons: to become full participants in this country; to ensure they can stay in the U.S given the current political landscape; and, finally, to be able to vote.

Teaching immigrants is a way to honor the past and pay it forward at the same time. Almost all of our ancestors arrived here from somewhere else and received help and support as they made a new start.

Martha provides that support now for the immigrants of today.

When asked what she would like everyone to know about the staff and volunteers at LIS, she says simply, “they are an incredible resource in the community — what a wonderful job they do.”

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