Happy National Volunteer Week! Established in 1974 to recognize the power of volunteers to make a difference, National Volunteer Week has grown each year since its inception. This week of celebration recognizes the impact volunteerism has on the world, particularly the way it can tackle society’s greatest challenges and build stronger communities.
Many of those challenges are addressed by nonprofit organizations, and without volunteers, most of those nonprofits would be hard-pressed to accomplish program goals, raise funds, conduct events, or even assemble a board of directors. Fortunately, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), more Americans are volunteering than ever before. In fact, the most recent Volunteering in America report found that 77.34 million adults (that’s 30.3 percent) volunteered through an organization in the previous twelve months. Altogether, Americans volunteered nearly 6.9 billion hours, worth an estimated $167 billion in economic value.
Here at ReadWest, we’re no different. Our volunteers are vital to the work we do, and we’re so grateful for the time and talents they so willingly share. In fact, we did a bit of what we like to call “literacy math” (which is most definitely *not* an oxymoron) to see just how much we depend on our generous and hardworking team. We were stunned and humbled with the result:
15,678 hours donated x
$25.43 (estimated hourly wage) =
$398,692 worth of literacy instruction provided to our community!
National Volunteer Week felt like the perfect opportunity to spotlight one of our busier volunteers, the amazing Sue Fox! Currently doing double duty as both a tutor and a board member, Sue is technically retired from CNM, though she still teaches the occasional course. We’re just thrilled she freely gives so much of her time to ReadWest. We sat down with her earlier this month to talk about her background, her love of volunteering, and why she prefers a physical book to an e-reader.
Tell us a bit about Sue.
I started teaching in 1982. From 1982 through 1984 I taught special ed at Manzano High School, and then went to teach full time at TVI, which eventually became CNM, from 1984 to 2017. I retired for three months then went back part-time. So, 39 years total.
I’ve been volunteering as a tutor with ReadWest for almost two years now, and I’m currently tutoring my third student. I got involved with ReadWest when I was full-time at CNM and was also the community-based education site coordinator. When Yvonne Wise was the director in the 90s, I would often ask her to publicize off-campus GED and ESL courses. So, I had always known about ReadWest but never really had the time to get involved like I am now. In October of last year, I was asked to be on the board of directors, specifically with fundraising.
What did you teach in all those years?
Mainly English, writing and grammar. I taught freshman English, analytical writing and traditional grammar. I also taught GED preparation. For a while I was in the business department, where I taught accounting… so I always tell my students I’ve taught everything except truck driving! My first master’s degree is in English and my second is in business administration, but I have primarily taught English.
What inspired you to begin working with ReadWest?
When I retired and started drawing my teacher’s pension, I could only teach one course per semester at CNM. I had a lot of time on my hands and really missed teaching — especially preparing students for the high school equivalency, which is something I really enjoyed. I felt like I needed to give back to the community and I knew about ReadWest, so I reached out and felt like I really clicked there. Everybody has been very welcoming and supportive, and I feel like I’m doing something that makes a difference for people.
You currently tutor three days a week?
Yes. I have a 19-year-old student, a young man who’s in a time crunch to get prepared to go back to the New Mexico Military Institute. He’s actually passed three of the five tests of the HiSET battery. He’s very bright, catches on really quickly. It’s been a delight to work with him.
You must get a real sense of fulfillment from working with your tutoring students.
I do, because as you know, CNM moved to online in March of last year, so I’ve been teaching my CNM courses online and will be through the summer of this year, and I don’t find that as rewarding or as stimulating as face-to-face instruction. So being able to tutor face-to-face is really rewarding.
After you’ve tutored someone, do you ever get the opportunity to visit with your students and see how they’re doing, to learn if the tutoring has been beneficial?
Oh, definitely. The student I had last year, he’s an amateur boxer in Rio Rancho. He was our featured student for our end-of-year fundraising last year. I keep in touch with him, and he’s planning to start classes at CNM in the fall, in the firefighting/fire science program. So occasionally I do get to keep in touch.
Sometimes I run into my old students too, former students from CNM. I’ve been teaching so long I run into folks all the time, and I’m starting to get the children and grandchildren of former students in my classroom! One young lady told me she went home and told her mother that she had Sue Fox for English, and her mother said, “Oh my god is she still alive?” I’m getting on to the third generation of my former students!
What is your favorite part about 1) volunteering and 2) board membership?
Tutoring is definitely my favorite. I love teaching writing, seeing a student click about how to structure an essay, formulate a thesis statement… and when they come back and tell me what their score is on their HiSET test, usually it’s a time for celebration.
I’m learning a lot, being on the board of directors, about fundraising, and the history of ReadWest. Also, the strategic plan, and writing goals… One of the things I did for many years when I was at CNM was write the funding grant for adult basic education. So, I’m kind of used to that, but it’s a different ballgame with a nonprofit, a community-based organization like ReadWest. I haven’t really been on the board long enough to be terribly active, but I’m enjoying writing the goals for the strategic plan that we’re redoing.
What spurred you to take on that extra responsibility of joining the board?
Well, they asked me to! I was kind of surprised they asked me to do that because I’m more of a worker bee, but I was very honored and flattered that they asked. I’m enjoying it. I’m working on the fundraising committee and working on rewriting the strategic plan.
Fundraising is difficult, especially for me. That is one of the things I find challenging because it’s hitting people up for money, but it’s such a worthy cause that a lot of people I know were happy to donate. And now we’re working on ideas… it’s hard during a pandemic because the things we used to do… we can’t really do that right now. So right now, I’m trying to get some local artists to donate or discount some of their artwork so maybe we can do another auction or something of that nature. We’re trying a lot of different ideas.
You must be a lover of the written word.
My favorite author is Joyce Carol Oates. I’ve read all of her work many times over. I just finished a short story collection of hers. I had the pleasure of meeting her about 10 years ago in Santa Fe, when she came here for a reading. And then my students at CNM Westside did a novel slam several years in a row, and we picked a different Oates book each fall. She was very supportive of that. We sent her photographs. It was very cool to get to meet her because she’s an inspiration of mine. We had to get her permission to read her work aloud in public and she was very supportive. She even wanted the posters that we had all over campus. She’s 87 years old now but still going strong. She’s published two new novels this year.
What are you reading right now?
I’m taking a break right now — well, I’m teaching English 1101 so I’m mostly reading student research papers!
Physical book, audio book or e-reader?
I did break down and buy a Kindle but it’s a different reading experience for me because I’m kind of tactile. I like to hold a book, and highlight something, underline something, annotate… I also find that I read way too fast on Kindle. Audio books… not at all.
Can you share a bit about organizational goals, what ReadWest hopes to achieve?
Of course, to increase fundraising and find alternate funding sources. Also finding creative ways to reach out to students during a pandemic.
One challenge we have is that some students don’t have the technology skills or even the access to technology allowing them to benefit from online education that much. Online education presumes that all students are wealthy enough to have reliable internet service and access to technology. Reaching out to those students.
Also increasing our interface with other post-secondary schools and organizations, and increasing our board membership.
If anyone were considering volunteering for ReadWest, what would you tell them?
I would certainly encourage them, especially educators, or former educators. I think it’s a fantastic way to keep your own skills current and do what you love best. I talk about ReadWest all the time with my colleagues from CNM — not just to hit them up for money (HAHA!) but to ask them to consider tutoring.
It’s very worthwhile and enjoyable. I always look forward to going into the office, and I always leave feeling better about life than I did when I came in. I think it’s important to get outside yourself, especially after this pandemic, and lockdown… we tend to get so self-absorbed and isolated. I think it’s a wonderful way to reach out and see folks who may be having a tougher time than I am. It puts things in perspective. My problems often pale in comparison to the students that we serve.
I would just encourage more people to do it. People don’t have to be a teacher or a former teacher. You just need the desire to help folks who are struggling to have a better life. That’s what we all have in common — we all want to have a better life.
Want to become a volunteer tutor? Learn more on our Volunteer Tutor page.