Culture, family heritage motivates Ela Library volunteer
Long Grove resident Nancy Chen, a volunteer at the Ela Area Public Library, helps teach the library's English as a Second Language program. | Brian O'Mahoney~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 28, 2013 7:50AM
LAKE ZURICH — Every Tuesday morning, Nancy Chen makes her way from Long Grove to Ela Public Library to volunteer with its English as a Second Language (ESL) program.
Library public information officer Valerie Stern said Chen has stood out to both teachers and students as a dedicated and valuable part of the program. With Chen’s assistance, the ESL program helps adults learn or improve their English speaking and writing skills.
Chen, who has been volunteering for four years, explained that her dedication to Ela’s program stems from both a place of respect for the library’s curriculum, as well as a love for the cause she feels it promotes.
“When my grandparents came here in the 1880s, they didn’t have anything like this, which is welcoming to all cultures,” Chen said. “This is my way of paying it back.”
Q: What inspired you to volunteer with Ela, and this class in particular?
A: The people at Ela are exceptionally friendly! Although my great-grandparents came from China in the 1880s, I think about them and what their experience would have been like, had they been able to access an ESL class! Instead, they experienced fear and prejudice, so they kept to themselves.
Q: Why do you like to volunteer with Ela’s ESL class?
A: Eleni Adamis is a great ESL teacher. She keeps the mood light, humorous and fun while learning! I also like the mix of people in the class who are from all over the world. I’ve learned a lot about their cultures as well. Once, we talked about how you might greet someone on the street. Although in the states we use a handshake, as we went around the class, I discovered others use a kiss on one cheek, or both cheeks, or a bow! Twice a year, we have a pot luck, where everyone brings food from their native country. It’s quite a feast! I think that having knowledge of other cultures breaks down prejudices and promotes acceptance.
Q: What inspires you to volunteer, in general?
A: My mom signed me up as a “candy striper” at the hospital when I was 14 and instilled the volunteer spirit in me ever since. I feel as though I get back 10 times what I give! I get a real joy out of volunteering. People are genuinely grateful for your help and I’ve heard it said that social connections contribute to your overall well-being.
Q: What do you like about volunteering?
A: I love the experience of helping others! I also volunteer at the Chicago Botanic garden, where I started in the Plant Production Greenhouses, and now I am volunteer greeter, interacting with guests at the visitor center. I explain which areas might be interesting to visit, answer questions and hand out maps.
Q: What is your favorite restaurant?
A: Eggshells in Lake Zurich, and DiPescara in Northbrook.
Q: What do you like to do in your free time?
A: I walk three miles most weekdays with my neighbor. I like gardening and playing the piano; I’ve played since I was 5. Last month, I played Christmas carols at a retirement center!
Q: What are your future goals, either for your volunteering or personal life?
A: I would like to interact with people in a way that utilizes my interests and talents to make a difference.
Q: What is your proudest moment or greatest achievement?
A: One moment is playing “All American Hometown Band” duet on the piano with my daughter at a recital, and another is when my husband and I went to China this past summer and showed our daughter the land of her heritage.
Q: Favorite movie?
A: Mindless comedies like “The Wedding Singer,” “The Birdcage” and “Mean Girls.”
A: 80’s, Broadway show tunes and classical.
Q: What’s your favorite vacation destination?
A: Hawaii or California.
Q: Are you a summer or winter person?
A: Summer! I grew up in California and have never gotten used to the winters here!