The Volunteer’s Perspective: Helping Low Income Women Change Their Lives

In honor of national volunteer week, we have asked some literacy volunteers to share their perspectives with us.

The individuals who volunteer their time to teach adults to read are helping to change the world one learner at a time, and they should be recognized for their dedication.

Mercy Learning Center (MLC) in Bridgeport, Connecticut, is devoted to providing basic literacy and life skills training to low-income women in a compassionate and supportive environment. Volunteer tutors at MLC help women improve their English skills, learn to read and write, and prepare for the GED® exam.

Two of MLC’s inspiring volunteers shared their stories with us.

Lea Sylvestro’s Story

“It was such a relief to come to the Center. The whole team—tutors, teachers, administrators, and social workers—encouraged us not only in our work but also as women. … Sometimes I would come in with my chest heavy. I’d be encouraged to talk about it, to speak my mind. It was like sunshine through me! It was like we were friends, like family. All of us there, doing something together to make women strong.”

—MLC student Nicole

Nicole started in the Mercy Learning Center Tutoring Program in 2013, and I was fortunate to have her as my student. A native of Congo, she was encouraged by her sister-in-law Taiwo to join her at the Center to pursue a GED. My other student, Luciana, came to MLC three years ago and enrolled in the Intensive Studies Program. Born in Brazil, Luciana did not speak English and was driven by her desire to help her children with their homework. She progressed through a series of classes to MLC’s GED program and passed all but the Language Arts section of the GED test. She worked with me to bolster her skills in that final area.

“Being there [at MLC] changed my sense of what I could do at my age [44]. I thought I was done, and too old. But at the Center, you go from one level to another, and I realized I could keep going! I could be somebody! I’d never even thought of college, but now that I have my GED, I’ve applied to Gateway (Community College) to get my degree in nursing.”


MLC is life-enhancing not only for the students but for the tutors as well. Working with extraordinary women like Nicole, Luciana, and Taiwo uplifts me. Their effort and goals become my effort and goals. And when they succeed, their triumph is mine to celebrate as well. A gift! We cannot help every woman struggling for rights, respect, and education, but as Nicole says, being at MLC is like sunshine, in knowing we are helping those we can.

MaryAnn Meyer’s Story

An important service offered at MLC is preparing GED students for success with employment opportunities and job hunting. One way this is achieved is by holding mock interviews for the students with volunteer interviewers from local business organizations.

The mock interview day brings together all the hard work and preparation of each student. There is an elevated level of confidence and a professional presence, which is evident in their simple business attire and deliberate eye contact. The students come very well prepared, and each is able to concisely discuss their skills and ask excellent questions. After each interview, time is provided for suggestions and an evaluation for each student.

I was delighted to participate in this program and to meet with several of the students in the GED program. MLC provides a wealth of services and resources for students at all levels of learning, and the mock interview provides students with yet another life skill that will certainly serve them well as they pursue job opportunities.


Want to share your story as a volunteer or the stories of volunteers at your program?  If you have a volunteer story that you want to share, please send an email to Are you interested in helping adults gain literacy skills? Learn more about how you can get involved. 


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