Erik Budlong first joined Boston Cares in 2016, and after volunteering in several opportunities through our Calendar program, he found a home with the Boston Cares’ ESOL Corps at the Gilbert Albert Community Center teaching ESOL classes every Monday.
Originally from Acton, MA, Erik’s first experience with volunteering was in high school, “through an organization called HGRM (Household Goods Recycled in Massachusetts), which took home goods as donations and matched them with people in need.” Erik was one of the volunteers who helped with the packing and collections of items. In addition to hands-on work, Erik also performed outreach, working with the community to help find the goods needed.
Erik joined Boston Cares because his wife, Prassuna , another very active Boston Cares volunteer, encouraged him. He says initially he wasn’t looking to join the Corps Program, he just wanted to get involved. After realizing the benefits of the program, Erik made the commitment to the Gilbert Albert Community Center; “It’s easy and reliable to plan into your schedule, and great for creating relationships with those you are helping along with the other volunteers.”
Boston Cares’ Corps Program was founded in 2015 out of the need from several of our partner organizations for consistent groups of volunteers to serve in a way that a typical, rotating group could not. For many tutoring programs, the relationship between teacher and student is vital and providing stability through more structured volunteer service is at the heart of the mission of the Corps, while also maintaining a level of flexibility that allows volunteers to fit service into busy schedules. Since starting in May, Erik has witnessed not only the community impacts of the program, but has also experienced profound personal impacts.
“Its impressive to see students come to class even though they are working long hours. For example, there is a student, who works the night shift cleaning, but she’s always here for class and she’s progressing really well. Then she goes after class to clean for eight to ten hours. I grew up in the white, middle-class suburbs, where you just don’t see that as much. When I work with them one on one, I’m reminded to be grateful for the resources and opportunities that I’ve had. This experience has been a total game changer, just being born in the US, being born in a middle-class family with two parents, the basic things, really pave the way and make it easier for success. It’s not that [the students] can’t be successful, it’s just that they face a much different road ahead.”
Erik splits the Monday and Wednesday classes with another volunteer, and says he still sees a great need for more volunteers at GACC. “The class is not separated by experience level, so it’s a mix of English beginners and some that are more advanced.” With these classroom challenges, Erik manages to come up with lesson plans that are dynamic and interesting enough for both groups. He adds that there could be a large benefit to students if classes could be catered to more specifically depending on their experience. More volunteers would make this possible.
Although Erik describes himself as a “language guy” he is adamant that having language experience is not necessary to join the Corps. In fact, while Erik has experience with other languages like Spanish, most of his students speak Haitian Creole.
One of Erik’s classes typically begins with about an hour and a half of vocabulary followed by a half hour of a game to practice what they learned. Initially, he printed out short news articles and encouraged students to read aloud, but quickly found more interactive exercises were the best way to help students. “I have never been a teacher, so my lesson plans are based on researching ESOL websites and my best judgement. The students make me a better teacher by seeing how they react and what engages them.”
Despite having no experience as a teacher, Erik has found that teaching ESOL is both a fun and worthwhile challenge. Teaching not only pushes him out of his comfort zone, but has also given him an opportunity to have an impact directly on the people who need it most. He recommends to anyone who is interested in teaching that, “this would be a great way to dip your toes in the water.”
If you’re looking for a great opportunity to get involved in your community, consider Boston Cares’ Corps program. Our next Corps Kickoff will be held Saturday, January 27th at St. Marks in Dorchester.