Packet Sea Foam: Literacy volunteers insist top tutor deserves award

    Thanks to Joe Distelheim of Hilton Head Island for sharing the story of Elizabeth Toll's extraordinary volunteer work.

Joe writes:

Elizabeth Toll says she doesn't know why Literacy Volunteers of the Lowcountry has named her Volunteer Tutor of the Year for 2011.

Let's see if we can figure it out.

  • She's finishing her fourth year teaching English as a second language with LVL -- "wrapping up another wonderful year," is the way she puts it.
  • She has volunteered to take on a citizenship class, one-on-one with a would-be new American.
  • She brings 20-plus years of professional teaching experience to the role.
  • "She's so dedicated," said Sharon Black, director of LVL's English literacy programs.
  • She's at LVL's Hilton Head Learning Center, where Toll teaches an advanced class. "They seem to follow her. As they're getting better, she wants to move with them," Black said. "They absolutely love her."

    The annual award goes beyond numbers of hours and years of service, explained Nancy Williams, LVL's executive director.

    Program coordinators look among their volunteer tutors -- 138 last year across the Lowcountry, teaching English as a second language or basic literacy to English-speakers. They look for examples of resourcefulness, originality, leadership, persistence and impact upon students.

    What they found will result in Elizabeth Toll being honored at LVL's annual International Literacy Day celebration in September.

    The honoree deflects the credit to her "extremely motivated" students, but it's obvious that motivation runs both ways. She delights in the widely varying mix of nationalities of the students she has attracted.

    "We learn so much from each other," Toll said. "It's just a pleasure being around them."

    She covers all the bases -- conversation, writing, comprehension and reading, often seeking out easier versions of old favorites she and the students can read together. These, she said, "give us concepts we can sink our teeth into."

    If that sounds too heavy, well, here's Black again: "She makes it fun. There's not a lot of stress. Sometimes I'll go in there and say, 'Y'all are having too much fun. There's too much laughing.' "

    Elizabeth Toll and her husband, Stan, had been coming to Hilton Head Island from Westchester County in New York for many years before settling in Sea Pines five years ago. She almost immediately brought her high school teaching experience (special education and English) to Literacy Volunteers.

    Why did she, and why should others? Like many other LVL volunteers, she gets a great deal of satisfaction from what she does.

    "If you enjoy teaching, sharing what you know ... if you have the sense that it's important for people to succeed in this country, communicate with doctors and their children's teachers, get better jobs (that's why you should volunteer)," she said.

    So, why did Elizabeth Toll get this honor? Her answer is, "I don't know. Everyone who does this does it with enthusiasm and pride in what they do."

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