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Mar 17 2014

Volunteer Spotlight: Rich Bennett

Interviewed by Maria Gurovich for The Island Connection

Editor’s Note: The Volunteer Spotlight is a new column in The Island Connection highlighting members of the community who give their time to help others. If you know of a volunteer who deserves the spotlight email jennifer@luckydognews.com.

Rich Bennett lends his linguistic skills to help incipient Americans improve their English.

Rich Bennett lends his linguistic skills to help incipient Americans improve their English.

Call me a converted Yankee; a Pennsylvanian that spent my adult life in the mid-west, I moved from St. Louis to South Carolina in 1998 to retire on Kiawah Island. Two years ago my golf friend, Tom Fossi, who knew that I enjoyed teaching Italian, suggested I get involved with ESL at Our Lady of Mercy Community Outreach. My four grandparents were immigrants who struggled when they came to the United States. Their children’s education was limited. My mother did not complete high school and my father left school after the eighth grade, both to work to help support their families.

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Now, I help incipient Americans improve their English skills with the goal of their functioning better in an English-speaking country. I teach lower intermediate and advanced students. Both levels present different challenges and rewards. Being involved with ESL classes is really personal for me.

I can relate to my students because when I was a child I could not communicate with my own Italian grandmother. She spoke no English. I can also remember my “Babcia” (great grandmother) from the Ukraine who watched over my brother and me and spoke no English whatsoever. Years ago, no organizations such as the Outreach existed. I want my students to be able to talk to their children and especially their grandchildren; enjoy their company and pass on traditions and customs. I keep coming because of my students’ attitudes. They are so polite, hardworking, and appreciative. I have so much admiration for them. Most of them work, are mothers, fathers, and husbands yet still find the time to attend classes. They put so much effort into integrating into American society. But I encourage them to be proud of their heritage and not to let their children forget their parents’ native tongues, and where they came from. I would love for all of my students to become citizens someday.

When people ask me why I volunteer, I tell them that I like to give back. It sounds trite, but there is something to it. I am fortunate in many ways including having the best wife, daughter, and two wonderful grandchildren in my life. I consider myself a lucky man and I want to share.

If you have an interest in giving to your community, find some commonality between your interests and volunteer opportunities. In my case, I’m fascinated by linguistics and love to teach so teaching English as a Second Language classes is the right fit for me. There are lots of ways you can make a difference; do something that matters.

Our Lady of Mercy Community Outreach serves James Island, Johns Island, Wadmalaw Island and The Neighborhood House of Charleston. For more information on how to get involved call 843.559.4109 or email mariad@olmoutreach.org.

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