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Vanessa Lee is an eight-week Caminos Volunteer in Monte Cristi. A Minnesota native, she plans on attending Winona State University in the fall, where she will study medicine.  This is Vanessa’s story:

It’s a Friday night, and the Salomón Jorge Learning Center is bustling with 30 bright students and their loving families. It is graduation night! Those 30 students are proudly showing off their completed crafts and activities to their families. They all worked very hard learning English and life skills over an eight-week curriculum. Tonight is their night to show off all that they learned.

Over the course of eight weeks (through the Dare to Dream summer program), students were taught important skills such as public speaking, citizenship, and dream building – among others. The ceremony begins, and the students are in their seats anxiously awaiting their name to be called. As they receive their diplomas – one by one – their faces are glowing with pride; reflected by their parents smiling back at them.

The names have been called and one of the Adelante Volunteers stands up to give a speech – both in English and Spanish – because she was once a learning center student trying to learn English herself. A stranger might have a hard time guessing which is her first language: Spanish or English! She talks about the importance of learning English and the amazing progress the students have made over the summer.

Before the night is over, a couple of parents come to the front of the stage, microphone in hand, and genuinely thank the volunteers for doing what they do – not just teaching English, but for giving their kids a safe environment to learn and instilling a sense of self confidence that wasn’t there before.

As a Caminos Volunteer, being here long-term has proven to be especially rewarding because I’ve had the opportunity to watch each student develop their skills throughout the weeks. It was wonderful getting to see them all improve their English while in a fun learning environment. Yes, graduation night is a night the students will never forget, and I don’t think I will either.