The mission of the Ozark Literacy Council is to improve lives by expanding and promoting literacy within the community.
Some times the best way to get to know an organization isn’t by reading their mission statement, but by hearing directly from the individuals that work there, from those that receive their services, and from those that volunteer their time to support the organization. This is why we love the Ozark Literacy Council’s series entitled “Humans of OLC”. So without further ado, let’s hear from some of the people themselves.
Board Member: Dr. “Bowtie” Todd Jenkins, Jr.
“[OLC] is a hidden jewel. A lot of people don’t know about OLC and the impact that it has; other boards have a lot more visibility. It’s very important to showcase our mission and the lives that we impact, because some of those lives get hidden. It’s like a lot of untold stories. The community [here] is very welcoming: open arms, open hearts, and open minds. Because you never know who’s going to walk into the door. I’ve always seen OLC be a community of love and a community of access. I describe it as a hidden jewel. I hope to lift it up, the beauty that’s in this place and the lives that we impact. I thought I should highlight that hidden jewel, because it shouldn’t be hidden.”
Program Director: Mina Phebus
“We want to welcome everybody, whether they are interns, volunteers, or students. We just open the door, like, ‘we don’t know what your goal is, but we will help you.’ A lot of students tell me that it goes beyond school; you can find friendship here, you can find a mentor, you can find different cultures. [One of our students] was a medical doctor in China; he cleans our building because he wants to give something back to our community. Sometimes volunteers come just to enjoy a coffee, because there are always students speaking all different languages, like music. People here are willing to share, willing to help, willing to understand. It’s not only just one thing. That’s what I want to continue to accomplish.”
AmeriCorps Member: Jenna, OLC Teacher
“One thing I really love [about OLC] is that it’s welcoming. The students enjoy it here. The staff is so welcoming; they always say hi; the students can stop in their offices and the staff will stop what they are doing to [greet them]. Even old students [stay in touch]. [Longtime teachers] will say, ‘I had a student contact me from 8 years ago!’ It’s because they felt so welcomed here. And I feel the same way. I can also translate that to my students. When a new student comes in, they are like, ‘Who are you? Where are you from?’ It’s like a family. That’s a big plus about this place, and I think that’s why we keep getting growth.”
OLC Student: Xiaoming
“I’ve been at OLC almost one year. I practice and improve my English here. It’s not an ordinary language school, it’s like a big family. We learn and enjoy the atmosphere here. Every morning I am the first student to arrive at school. Teachers here are so nice and students are from different countries. I was a medical professor in China for more than 10 years but it was so exciting for me to sit in a classroom and study like a student again. I learned not just the language but also the history and culture, which help me to understand America differently. I still remember the first class I took here was Paul’s class. He gave us a lesson about American pop music. I had heard some about American music but I didn’t think that I liked it—too noisy. But Paul introduced the background and history of the music. When I learned that, American music meant something different to me than before. ‘Ah! This music is very interesting! It also has a kind of history.
‘y classmates are from all over the world. We use our different “Englishes” to talk to each other. It is an amazing feeling and experience. Now, other countries’ names are not just a name, a word to me. They have vivid and diverse meanings. Two of our students are from Iran and Saudi Arabia. When they first came and met each other at OLC, one would say something and the other would challenge him because of their different cultures. But after studying together for a very long time, they became very close friends. I am often touched by such things and also have learned to care about world events. I think the most important thing I learned here is thinking for myself. I used to just listen to my teachers, my parents, and my bosses. I didn’t care about, ‘is it right? Is it correct?’ But now I think for myself.
There are other students from China that study here at OLC who have more trouble with English than I. It’s really difficult for them to live a normal life. When we had class, I would translate everything that the teacher said to them. Some wished to quit the class because they felt it was too difficult for them. Then, Mina [our program director] came to me with a suggestion: ‘Can you teach them and help them?’ I said that I could try. Eventually I had five students; I taught them and saw their progress. They would say, ‘Today I learned which door is exit and which is entrance;’ ‘Yesterday I found the restroom myself.’ If they don’t know the signs, they don’t know which restroom is for men and women, or even which door is pull or push. I think I can use my teaching experience to help people, which is very exciting. I never knew that volunteering in America was popular until I got here. I got a lot of help from others when I came here first and now I want to do something to help others. My husband encouraged me. He said, ‘Perhaps you cannot be a physician, but you can do something good for society and for your community.’ It makes me feel satisfied. You learn something, you give that to another student, and you hope to improve their life.”