Last week my ESL volunteer assignment was changed to a group class, “Empowering Parents,” held at a Salt Lake City elementary school. My students are Spanish-speaking women who have little contact with English-speaking Americans. Those with babies and preschoolers bring their children, of course. Lupe’s 3-year-old son got bored during class, so I handed him a piece of paper and some colored pencils. He had no idea how to hold a pencil or what it was for until I showed him how to make marks on the paper.
American children are given paper, crayons, and pencils when they can barely toddle. Can you imagine the disadvantage for a child who has never held a pencil and never heard a book read aloud when he starts kindergarten? No one can define the limits for good that come from empowering mothers to speak English and read to their children—to give them the advantages other American children receive. But, a waiting list exists. The ESL Center in Salt Lake depends on volunteer teachers. They never have enough volunteers available to meet the needs of all the refugees and immigrants who ask for help in learning English.
Surveys show Utahns donate a record number of hours to volunteer work—mostly in Church-related service. The Church sponsors many worthwhile humanitarian and relief programs, but it doesn’t fill every need in the community. Most active Mormons I know are so loaded down with Church callings they couldn’t possibly add community service to their lives. Wouldn’t it be great if Mormons felt free to choose service projects that matched their talents and interests instead of being assigned to something for which they have no aptitude and little interest? (Tying quilts for the humanitarian center fits this category for me.)
And what if Mormons felt they could turn down Church callings that interfered with their community service? “No, I can’t serve in the Family History library. I spend two afternoons a week mentoring a girl who was failing junior high until I started working with her.”
Agency to choose service where we are most needed and most effective should not be discounted.