Uniting America: Notable Volunteers pt.3

February 28, 2012
Lucy Smith Uniting America AmeriCorps Fellow


In early January I was sincerely fortunate to meet Erika Bryant, a talented member of the community. Only days after I moved to Aurora I attended a Language Exchange at the local public library. This is an opportunity designed for English or Spanish language learners to come practice their emerging language skills in a supportive, communal environment. Only 7 people are in attendance, but the conversation is diverse and friendly.

After the meeting I connect strongly with Erika, a delightful woman who is certainly putting a lot of energy into learning Spanish. She is engaging and inquisitive as she asks about Uniting America and shares her story. Erika currently works in the software department but finds her job unrewarding. On the side she teaches ACT prep courses, and upon seeing her students succeed, she realizes that her heart and her talents really do lie in the education field.

A change of career, a life altercation! Pursuing her options, Erika has found a few opportunities involving specialized certification, including a Spanish language proficiency exam! It’s a no brainer that we should team up as I tutor her in Spanish and she shares more about this diverse Aurora community. While at times stressful, we laugh and learn from each other and both her language abilities and my understanding of the community are progressing.

Erika donated her voice to a small scale movie project where she truly shared her deep desire to become bilingual. When looking for a salon for a quick hair cut she saw a sign stating ‘abierto’ and entered with gusto. While working with the stylist and practicing her Spanish she learned that the stylist had never dealt with African-American hair before. What an opportunity for cultural exchange as both sides learned more about each other! Erika also attended the Illinois Immigrant Integration Summit on February 4th and was instrumental in reaching out to participants about our Aurora community during the Uniting America Workshop.

Now, with the exams behind her, Erika is excited to begin volunteering with the Adult Literacy Project at Waubonsee Community College. On Saturday the 3rd and Saturday and 10th she will be attending training sessions so that she will be a certified English language tutor eligible to either teach a classroom or tutor a learner one on one. I am so excited for Erika and know that this opportunity is perfect for her and her future career ambitions!