Changing lives through D214 Community Education’s Read to Learn program

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Marlene Greenberg, left photo, and Marlene Delaney, right photo, are shown receiving their 2018 Spotlight on Service awards from Secretary of State Jesse White and Illinois State Library Deputy Director Greg McCormick at a spring ceremony in Springfield, IL.


Two invaluable District 214 Community Education Read to Learn volunteers were among the 2018 Spotlight on Service Award winners honored at a spring ceremony at the Illinois State Library in Springfield, Ill. by Secretary of State and State Librarian Jesse White.

The award Marlene Delaney and Marlene Greenberg received recognizes exceptional volunteers who go above and beyond helping adult learners in Illinois literacy programs.

Delaney and Greenberg quickly acted on their desire to help their community through the Read to Learn program, a reading program for adult learners eager to learn or improve their English with the help of volunteer tutors offered by District 214 Community Education.

Delaney and Greenberg’s small act of volunteerism flourished into many years of service to others and has won them statewide recognition. 

Greenberg’s personal experience has shaped her into the literacy tutor she is today. She knows firsthand what it is like to live in a country where a person’s language becomes a barrier. Having been raised by her European grandparents, Greenberg helped them with their English whenever they needed her assistance.

“I became their interpreter and wrote the notes for the milkman, which my grandmother copied,” Greenberg said.

After raising her family and then her husband’s death, her grandparents’ struggles became her inspiration. She decided that the best way to give back to her community was through volunteering as a literacy tutor.

Delaney’s introduction to Read to Learn was no different than Greenberg's. Both women had a longing to do something outside their usual routine that was different, worthwhile and meaningful.

Delaney, who is a structural engineer, had lost her husband, too, before becoming a volunteer and soon after his death both her children went off to college. At that time, the primary focus in her life was her job.

“Although I like my job, I felt it wasn’t healthy for that to be the only activity in my life,” Delaney said.

While she had no experience in teaching English, she gave it a try and it was the start of a life-changing experience.

Delaney and her very first student shared personal stories and struggles while she helped her learn English. It made her realize that she could help others while building relationships with people from different backgrounds.

“I have had several students and all of them have helped me develop compassion for their situation along with relating it to my own life and the life of others,” Delaney said.

One of Delaney’s greatest contributions to the program was when she volunteered to facilitate the program’s first book club using the Secretary of State Adult New Readers Book Club collection. Delaney loves to read and discuss books with her students, who are often reading their first complete book in English. She has since facilitated nine book clubs.

Both Delaney and Greenberg go above and beyond for their students.

Greenberg enhances her lesson plans with realistic materials such as menus from restaurants, medical forms and even initiates role-playing. Delaney, who recently had to study phrasal verbs to find an effective way to teach it, spends time studying material outside of tutoring sessions to better aid her students.

“I have been tutoring for quite a few years and have no desire to stop,” Delaney said. “It is often the highlight of my week when I can share my love of learning, reading and literacy with my students.”

Greenberg began her tutoring journey in 1998, and 20 years and 800 hours of tutoring later, she will always think back to the most gratifying experience as a volunteer when her student went to class one day and told her she had let her out of jail.

“Larisa, what are you talking about?” Greenberg asked.

Greenberg recalls her student telling her that she never left her apartment to socialize with her neighbors because she was embarrassed to speak English. But she finally did meet her neighbors and found that she could communicate with them and was welcomed.

“She just did not have confidence. Her apartment was her jail, and now, because of the Read to Learn literacy program, she had the confidence to move forward,” Greenberg said.

Like many of Greenberg and Delaney’s students, move forward she did.