A literal life skill
In 1996 Rueben Vargas moved from Jiquilpan, Michoacan, Mexico, to Glenwood Springs so he could provide his family with a better life.Besides leaving his family, starting a new job and living in a new culture, Vargas had one minor obstacle to overcome: learning English.Vargas’ construction job required him to work from early in the morning until late at night. Finding a language class to fit his schedule seemed impossible until he found the Literacy Outreach Center.The Literacy Outreach Center is an educational resource for adults who read below a fourth-grade level. Some adults speak English, but many do not, said Martha Fredendall, literacy outreach director. Most of the adults at the Center have schedules that aren’t conducive to organized classes, so volunteers often meet students at odd times to teach them how to read, Fredendall said.”We serve the hardest to reach and teach,” said Fredendall. “Some of our students dropped out of school and others, like Rueben, are college-educated but don’t speak English.”In Mexico, Vargas was an electrical engineer. He didn’t start working construction until he moved to Colorado.”When you move here, you do whatever you have to do to survive,” Vargas said.After working long hours, Vargas would sit with a tutor and study English. Vargas worked with the Center for three years, and although he has a thick accent, his English is very good.”I knew how to say the basic things, like ‘How much is this?’ but I had a hard time expressing myself,” Vargas said. “Literacy Outreach was wonderful for that. I’m very grateful to them.”In 2000, Vargas and a few of his family members started a construction company called RMS Concrete.RMS Concrete has worked on major projects throughout Colorado including Folsom Field in Boulder and the Eagle Airport.Embracing English and working hard to understand the language was extremely critical to Vargas’ success.”You need to be able to express yourself well in business,” Vargas said. “If you show up and you can only say a few words – even if you understand everything someone is saying to you – the person might not think you do good work.”When the Literacy Center opened in 1994, it serviced 50 people in Garfield County. Last year, the Center helped 105 people.Before accepting students, the Center tests the person’s reading level. If they read below a fourth-grade level, they qualify for the program, Fredendall said.The Center pairs a student with a tutor. All tutors are volunteers and undergo several hours of training.”Our tutors are more than just tutors,” Fredendall said. “They’re cultural ambassadors. They teach people things like what to wear and how to act that students wouldn’t usually learn in a classroom.”Contact Ivy Vogel: 945-8515, ext. firstname.lastname@example.org
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