Learning to live in another country requires more than simply learning the language. To be truly successful, individuals must learn to acclimate to a new culture.
That’s where David Godwin comes in. Since 1997, he’s volunteered with Literacy Initiative for Today (LIFT), a Houston-based program dedicated to helping immigrants learn English and assimilate to American society.
“It’s wonderful to see the change in people and how they appreciate what you do,” he said. “You’re not only helping them learn English, but you’re also helping them adapt to our society.”
Currently LIFT offers 20 classes of eight different levels of instruction, including pronunciation, writing, health, and computers. Classes meet Saturdays in two three-hour blocks, and volunteer teachers come from several professions, such as nurse practitioners and attorneys. At least 50 percent have been with LIFT for more than five years, said Godwin who joined in 1997.
The majority of teachers come through Volunteer Houston, a referral organization that connects volunteers with opportunities, church bulletins, and ads.
Students, who are 70 percent female, range in age from 17 to 93 years. Most are Hispanic, but some are Chinese or Middle Eastern. In it’s 26-year existence, LIFT has helped approximately 15,000 people. For six years, Godwin taught those participants, but today he volunteers as the program director, responsible for coordinating teacher schedules and securing classroom space from Houston’s University of St. Thomas.
Godwin’s was also a coordinator in his career. For 30 years, he worked in the tuberculosis program with the Department of State Health Services. He continues his involvement by working with foreign exchange students who win scholarships to come study in American high schools and the families who host them.
Just as he has endeavored to grow LIFT’s reach in the past, Godwin said he has plans for the future, as well. The groundwork is already laid to launch classes devoted to helping LIFT participants improve their resumes and choose professional dress. The goal is to help individuals make the best first impression possible.
All these efforts, he said, are done to help non-native English speakers have the best life possible in America.
“It’s wonderful to run into people years later, and they’re doctors, engineers, and attorneys,” he said. “They say thank you, and I know what I’ve done to help.”