Be Inspired | Do Good
Giving is its own reward. As an educator and executive at Blue Ridge Literacy, Stephanie Holladay has learned at least as much from her students as they have from her.
Stephanie is an educator, a leader, and an anthropologist. Officially, she’s the Program Director of Blue Ridge Literacy, a non-profit delivering English education to people in need. She started her career as an educator with Americorps and discovered that she loves the work. Even though she’s been promoted to Program Director, she still finds great pleasure in teaching classes. Stephanie is passionate about serving those in need and finding ever more effective ways to do so. Today she is working toward her Master’s Degree in Applied Anthropology from the University of North Texas. She is learning how to use anthropological insights to change organizational structures, and develop solutions for social problems.
Blue Ridge Literacy offers individual and group English classes. They strive to meet the unique needs of each individual they serve. By being designated as a human services organization rather than an educational organization, they avoid the need for a strict, one size fits all curriculum. All of Blue Ridge’s students start by answering questions about their individual goals and backgrounds. They are matched with classes or a tutor that will meet their needs. English is taught as a means to an end. Many of their students are learning to speak English to participate in parent-teacher conferences or to be able to read the Bible in church. Their classes are in high demand. There’s a waitlist now, as there often is.
In addition to teaching English, Blue Ridge Literacy also teaches personal finance, job readiness, and health literacy. They are a human services organization devoted to increasing access to community resources. At any given time, Blue Ridge has 85-100 active volunteers tutoring students. Not all of their volunteers are native English speakers themselves. In fact, depending on the student’s background, learning from a non-native speaker could be ideal.
Roanoke is one of few “welcoming cities” in Virginia. For a variety of reasons, including access to housing and jobs, Welcoming America designates Roanoke as refugee-friendly. Many people come to Roanoke from Nepal and Afghanistan. A full 90% of the people Blue Ridge serves are immigrants or refugees. Having access to English education means more professional opportunities. They can access communities and resources that would otherwise be unavailable to them. It means being able to have a voice in their child’s education, to participate in religious services, or simply to be able to order food at a restaurant.
For many, learning English means that they can develop new friendships. Early on in Stephanie’s career as an educator, she gave the class an assignment. They were working in groups, many with people of different primary languages. They completed the assignment but kept talking. She saw her students connecting with each other. Newcomers from different backgrounds, without a common tongue, could share stories about how their day was going. They could connect with people they couldn’t have mere weeks before. People in a strange place far from home were reaching out to others far from theirs.
Blue Ridge welcomes volunteers. If you’d like to become an educator, find out how at blueridgeliteracy.org. There are opportunities for both one-on-one tutoring and group classes. Teaching takes great energy and experience. You will grow. You will learn more than the students. If you’re too busy to volunteer, but can spare a winter coat, they’re accepting donations. People from Nepal and Afghanistan usually aren’t used to cold weather, and they could use your help getting ready for winter.
For more information, listen to Stephanie’s podcast.