A volunteer with Boston Cares for 4 years, Phyllis Rhoton shares her passion for learning and continuing education with others through her service at job readiness and ESOL programs.
Phyllis began volunteering with Boston Cares in 2013 as an English tutor for refugees at the Jewish Vocational Services before becoming a dedicated volunteer at New England Center for Homeless Veterans. Now, Phyllis says, she has streamlined her volunteering to focus on adult education and mentorship
As a retiree, Phyllis participates in a variety of adult education courses herself. “I’m a lifetime learner,” she shares, “I’m 71 years old and my philosophy is you’re never too old to learn.” With such an open understanding of the learning process, she is an ideal volunteer at opportunities with nontraditional learners, such as at Community Works Services (CWS). When describing what motivated her to volunteer at CWS she says:
“It’s about giving back, it’s about feeling grateful for the accomplishments I have made in my life…some of the people have disabilities and they’re trying to get back into the workforce and I thought this was a wonderful program. You’re helping someone else who may be having difficulty and you feel better about yourself knowing that you’re helping someone on the path of life.”
Interacting with volunteers is one of the highlights of volunteering at CWS for Phyllis. From the moment she walks in the door, Phyllis knows she is in a welcoming and caring community. “The people at CWS are wonderful. They’re very appreciative of the volunteers…and they are very thorough in giving a background on CWS- how long it’s been around, what programs are offered, they even take us on a tour, so we see the whole picture…the big picture.” At CWS, Phyllis is active in practicing mock interviews with clients. Often, she will start by offering positive feedback before bringing important points to her students’ attention. She provides notes on the feedback form given to each student so that supervisors can identify areas that may need work. “You need to exercise a little patience; each person is different. It’s not a cookie cutter type of environment, everyone is different and everyone has different [needs].”
Phyllis recognizes that CWS helps individuals that may be at a disadvantage stay current with the competition and learn how best to represent themselves in the workforce. Outside of Boston Cares, Phyllis also volunteers in the ESOL program at Boston China Neighborhood Community (BCNC), where she helps visiting scholars improve their English fluency. She shared that many of her students keep in touch and the relationships she develops are deeply personal.
“My volunteer work has really given me a lot of meaning and purpose in my life. It’s a reason to get up in the morning, it’s a way to stay engaged and connected…to me, this is essential. When you think back, what’s important are relationships. To me that’s what’s really important, it fills a need for me and I’ve developed a lot of relationships with my students or my former students. It’s not a paid purpose, it’s a volunteer job, but the purpose benefits me as well.”
Phyllis finds her work both meaningful and sustaining. Outside of volunteering she enjoys cooking, spending time with friends, sewing and meditating. Yet, despite the other demands on her schedule she finds time to make volunteering an important constant. “It’s about human contact and human connection,” she shares that “this is what life is all about…its touching another’s life, helping them help to make their life better. I find that doing this work as a volunteer and as a tutor, I learn so much from them as well. I just feel like I’m student and teacher at the same time.”