Chris Keates was thrilled when he finally graduated from college. He looked forward to starting his career and expanding his daily cuisine beyond Top Ramen.

But post-college life wasn’t quite what he expected. According to Chris, “What caught me by surprise was how suddenly I felt disconnected from the community—like I was turning off that part of my brain where all of the social consciousness stuff resides. Luckily, I recalled one volunteering event that I did for Guadalupe School years earlier and decided to call and offer my service as a teacher in the adult education classes.”

The Guadalupe School program provides English language instruction to approximately 290 immigrants and refugees annually. Classes are held for six hours each week, Monday through Friday. Chris was amazed by the commitment of his students who maintain a 75% attendance rate and remain with the program for an average of 19 months.

“It’s okay if you can’t speak the students’ respective languages,” Chris said. “Despite me not knowing how to speak Spanish, Portuguese, Ukrainian or Vietnamese, I have taught students from these language backgrounds, and I would argue that not sharing a common tongue actually forces you to engage students in more creative ways. Recently, my group wanted to know what “Motown” music was—so beyond a verbal explanation, I pulled up some audio samples of Motown. I really believe in reciprocity when it comes to effort, and if the students can see you trying your best to explain something, they will, in turn, try their best to understand it. I feel immensely satisfied when I see my students understand, despite our differences.”

At the heart of our community are volunteers like Chris Keates and Guadalupe School’s Adult Education Program, designed to provide English language instruction, family literacy classes and U.S. citizenship classes for new Americans.

Click here to follow the Heart of Our Community. Throughout May we will be sharing more stories about the volunteers, students, parents and staff at Guadalupe School.

It’s people like Chris Keates that make our community great!

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