What started out as a tutor-and-student relationship has blossomed into much more.
“We are good friends now,” Michael Crogan, Lewis and Clark Literacy Council’s tutor of the year, said of his longtime student Chang Guo You. “I feel a certain responsibility for him now. He’s almost like my family.”
More than five years ago Crogan took the training to become a tutor with the council seeing it as a good way to contribute to the community he enjoyed living in.
“It’s incredibly worthwhile,” he said. “Essentially we are making better neighbors for our community.”
The Lewis and Clark Literacy Council began in 1988 as a nonprofit agency that helps people acquire reading, writing, English language and workforce skills needed to lead productive lives within families and communities. The help is free and is funded through United Way and housed in the Front Street Learning Center provided by the Helena School District.
Shortly after his training, Crogan was introduced to Chang Guo You, a Chinese man who spoke virtually no English. The pair have been meeting once a week at the Lewis and Clark Library ever since.
It was slow at first. Crogan said he used a type of sign language and pictures to communicate.
Over time, Guo You’s English improved. As his pronunciations got better, the pair moved on to comprehension through reading.
“He’s done well and speaks good English now,” Crogan said.
But it’s more than just working to better English.
Crogan helps Gou You understand and sort his mail, to learn traffic laws, and how to get health and dental care. Crogan helped him learn etiquette, and they are now working on writing.
“In a lot cases, we become their support group,” Crogan said.
The council’s Executive Director Peggy Benkelman says there are currently over 70 active tutors who serve many non-English-speaking students, but will also help adults earn their GED.
“We serve anyone with literacy needs around Helena and Broadwater County,” she said.
New mom and East Helena resident Mayuko Strong moved to Montana in 2003 and says the agency not only help her learn the English language and American culture but helped her make friends.
She learned English while growing up in Japan, but learning it there and speaking and understanding it here are two very different things, Strong said.
“It was really hard, and (the council) helped a lot,” she said Tuesday.
The public is invited to attend an event this week to learn more. The Reading Matter Raffle and Trivia Fundraiser is scheduled for Thursday from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Staggering Ox. There is a $5 suggested donation.
Reporter Alana Listoe: 447-4081 or firstname.lastname@example.org