Kat’s “One Summer Chicago” Experience At RICS Belmont

Sometimes, service work ends up becoming more than just a chance to help someone. Sometimes, those engaging in the work end up learning the most. For young people like Kat, the chance to be an ESL teacher has opened up just as many doors for her as it has for the people she helps.

Kat, has been a part of the One Summer Chicago program for the last three years. Between school years, Kat is employed in her community – in this case, working in our Refugee and Immigrant Community Services (RICS) Belmont ESL classes. She helps new Chicagoans from all around the globe gain a better grasp of English, understand new cultures, and find community.

 “I’ve been looking for a way to give back to the community – but I’ve gotten so much more than that.”

English isn’t Kat’s mom’s  first language. She has always worked hard to master the language, regularly looking to her daughter for guidance and taking courses at Heartland Alliance’s ESL center for years.

“I remember getting a little impatient with her at times. After working here, though, I see just how hard it is to learn a second language as an adult.”

Kat’s friendly, warm demeanor makes it easy to connect with her – and her popularity in the program makes her a great asset to the team. She spends a lot of time with students finding how they learn at an individual level. Sometimes, students prefer to start learning in their native tongue. Sometimes it’s easier to dive right into English.

Whatever the direction may be, Kat is patient and responsive. It’s tough work, and it takes great patience. Fortunately for Kat, she’s found out exactly what she’s made of during her time in the program.

“I’ve learned that teaching is not easy, and I’ve learned a lot about myself. I’ve always been looking for a sense of purpose. Here, I’m always ready to help and so many people are grateful for it.”

And that purpose provides a guiding light for the young Chicagoan. Although Kat makes a nice wage as a worker in One Summer Chicago, she really comes to the classes to help others. For her, it’s not just about teaching a few words or phrases, it’s about sharing that guiding light with others – showing them their future is just as bright.

Today, Kat’s mom has a little white board back at the house where she writes down words in English to practice and study. Kat used to pay little attention to that whiteboard but now, she has become more and more engaged with it – and with her mom’s journey to fluency. She often helps, writing definitions and pronunciations of whatever words are on the wall.

“You know, right now is a confusing time for people my age. We’re all just trying to figure out what we want to do with ourselves, what makes us feel good. Heartland Alliance has really helped me figure out the kind of person I am.”

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