Literacy tutor John Comer has been at it awhile. Almost 20 years in fact. When John and his wife, Leslie, relocated to Modesto from the Bay Area, John was looking for volunteer opportunities. “Hey,” he said to himself, “I’m an educated guy… I’ll bet I could share my knowledge and experience with others.”
Indeed, John, recently retired from a 40-year career as a graphic artist, had already tried his hand at tutoring, working with Afghani and Chinese immigrants, helping them to assimilate into our culture by working with them to improve their English skills.
John came to LearningQuest – then Stanislaus Literacy Centers – in 2000 and has worked with a number of adult students over the years. One of his former students, he recalls, telephoned him recently to say hello. “That meant a lot to me,” he says. “I find that with tutoring, friendships often develop.” He is currently working with Ruben, a grandfather, who has always struggled with reading. One of nine children, Ruben was always good with his hands, excelling in woodshop and other manual tasks, but reading was always difficult. “John takes his time with me,” says Ruben. “He is very patient and understands me.”
Although John, now a young 85, has been tutoring for almost two decades, he finds that students are generally the same, at least in their desire to learn.. Almost without exception, he says, they are committed, eager, and willing to work hard to achieve their goals.
For John, a Korean veteran who also volunteers with his church in outreach and community service work, the main goal in working with students, aside from improving their literacy skills, is to help them be confident and productive citizens. “I ask myself, how can I help this student feel like an accepted member of our community,” he says. This is especially important, he says, with students who are new to our country and learning to navigate social and cultural obstacles on their way toward assimilation.
As with many LearningQuest tutors, learning is a two-way street. “I am gaining as much as my students,” says John, who likes to learn new things. “By teaching them, I am learning more about the world.”