Queens Borough Public Library has had a literacy program for the past 22 years. The program helps those adults older than 17 years of age who either read below a fifth grade level or who want to improve their English skills. The program offers small group instruction, which is led by volunteer tutors. Without the volunteer tutors, the program would not have been able to help more than 1,200 students improve their reading, writing, and speaking skills. Approximately 135 tutors have spent more than 11,000 hours of their time helping students this past year in the six locations that comprise the Adult Learning Center of the Queens Library.
The diversity of the borough of Queens is reflected in the tutors as well as the students. The tutors commit to tutor small groups of students and face the challenges of different needs and personalities. Their responses to these challenges vary, and many go far beyond their regular schedule of meetings. Meetings, exercises and excursions are tailored to the individual needs of the students and their different learning styles. For instance, tapes may be used for those who learn auditorily and museum visits for those who learn kinesthetically.
There is an ongoing involvement: tutors must commit to one year, but many extend their length of commitment. Their deep commitment and satisfaction mobilizes others; many bring friends, relatives, and neighbors into the program. They participate by explaining the program at Open Houses and in writing the tutor newsletter, “Tutor Talk.”
The dedication and love of tutoring is exemplified by Queens Borough Public Library volunteer tutors such as Patricia, who knew her mechanic student was having difficulty with computerized elements in the newer automobiles and gave him individual help in reading an auto manual, and Honore, who spent many hours reading a Licensed Practical Nurse preparation book into a tape recorder for her student. Another volunteer, Christine, purchased books of special interest to her students and gave them as gifts, and Robert regularly brings his students to major museums. These tutors manage to juggle careers, family obligations, and personal lives in order to fulfill commitment to strangers, either from a sense of community or from a deep love of reading.