Above: Parents and children try writing or drawing on parchment paper with quill pens
Vita’s Bristol Family Literacy class recently had the opportunity to visit Pennsbury Manor, where students learned about the history of the manor, William Penn, and how people lived in his time. Among other things, they learned that ink was made with soot, that goose and turkey feathers were used for quills, and that William Penn would trade textiles and metal to the native Lenape in exchange for furs. They even got to see and touch preserved animal pelts.
On this occasion, there was an exhibit by an artist of Native American descent which explored the grief they felt when driven from their ancestral lands – something many of the parents said was reflected in the history of their home countries, where indigenous peoples were also displaced.
During their visit, families saw the kitchen and learned about the variety of food that people at the manor ate and about medicinal herbs that were used to treat headaches and other illnesses. The children enjoyed putting the herbs in sachets and smelling them.
Experiences like this are wonderful for our students and their families, giving them a chance to learn about the rich history of Bucks County and to connect to the community. Doing so is vital to making new homes and lives here, and we are thrilled to provide these opportunities whenever we can!
Vita congratulates Sekou Kamara on obtaining US citizenship! Originally from Liberia, Sekou settled in Bucks County and first attended Vita classes in 2007. He is employed by Amazon, working the night shift in a warehouse and studying during the day.
The tutors who have worked with him describe Sekou as dedicated and focused, with a strong work ethic and drive to learn and improve himself. Tutor Coordinator Pat Stansfield called him an eager and interested student, noting that he asked a lot of questions while preparing for his citizenship test, to ensure he understood the different levels of government and grasped things like the distinctions between state and federal elected officials. Not content with that, he learned how to find the information for himself, so that he could continue learning on his own.
Eventually, Sekou wants his wife and two sons, still in Liberia, to join him so they can build a new life together here in Bucks County. With his drive and the progress he’s made, we don’t doubt he will succeed, and in the meantime Vita will do everything we can to continue supporting him. Congratulations, we are proud to have you as a fellow citizen, Sekou!
Vita’s High School Equivalency and GED classes recently celebrated the end of another year of adult education, and we want to thank several businesses for contributing! Our gratitude goes to:
Tony at Penn Thrift Beverage (6901 New Falls Rd.)
Glen at Haviland Fuel Oil (Columbus, NJ)
Mushtaq Khan at 711 (2251 Veterans Hwy, Levittown)
Stephanie at Giant (4001 New Falls Rd, Levittown)
Jordyn Huhnke at Philly Pretzel Factory (4216 Woodbourne Rd, Levittown)
Andy Smith at Wawa- Store #219 (3260 Bath Road Bristol, PA 19007)
Rick Saylor at Wawa Store #8125 (425 S. Main Street –Doylestown, PA 18901)
Your generosity means a lot to us, and helped our tutors, students, staff, and families all have a great day!
We also thank Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick for coming in person to encourage our tutors and students, and Acts of Grace Community Church for hosting and welcoming us. The community spirit you all showed is part of what makes Bucks County great!
March 8th was International Women’s Day, and Vita is proud to celebrate the dedicated women who lead our agency’s efforts as program directors. Kathy White, Karina Wegelius, and Gail Huber have given Vita years of faithful service, and together have helped Vita grow and expand to better serve the community. It’s no secret that nonprofit work often involves long hours, so what motivates them to put in the work?
“The first time I taught was while I was in Haiti,” says Kathy, Director of Literacy and High School Programs. While she initially went to help residents establish self-sufficient agriculture, it became clear that many of the Haitians she was working with needed to learn to read and write so that they could record information and organize effectively. Seeing a job that needed doing, Kathy soon found herself teaching. When she returned to the United States, she pursued a Master’s degree, and that eventually led her to Vita.
Asked what keeps her going, Kathy cites the students and teachers she works with. Many students face difficult life circumstances, “but they don’t let things beat them down,” she notes. “They keep moving forward, they keep things in perspective and focus on the good and what they can do.” Among her teachers, Kathy sees a similar persistence, as many are dedicated to service. Recalling a former teacher, Kathy remarks, “She gave honest feedback, but she had compassion.”
Karina, Director of ESL Programs, also looks to her students for inspiration. “They juggle so many responsibilities. The women in Family Literacy have multiple children, sometimes jobs, but they show resiliency and resourcefulness.” Karina recalls one mother who went through the Family Literacy program and ESL. She hadn’t finished elementary school in her own country, but she was determined to learn now that she had the opportunity, even while working two jobs. That attitude helps inspire Karina to keep going, too.
Gail is Director of Cognitive Skills Programs and works with men and women in the county jail. Like Kathy and Karina, it is the people she works with who inspire her to continue. “They’re almost all in the program because they want to be,” she notes. “They’re engaged, motivated.” Teaching cognitive behavioral skills is special, Gail says. “It’s very positive, hopeful. You’re helping people overcome their issues and reach their goals. They realize that even in jail, they have choices, and that’s freeing.”
Some might expect her clients to be very different, but Gail finds the opposite. They are people just like everyone else, and they want the same things as everyone else: a good home, their children to be healthy and happy, a job that will support their family. Gail remembers one past client, a healthcare professional who was jailed due to addiction. “She was worried for another inmate, one having mental health problems,” explains Gail, who has degrees and experience in Psychology. “As she talked about it I could see she was smart, really perceptive. She was able to diagnose the problem and explain, and I could tell she knew what she was talking about. After she got out, she started advocating for people with mental illness.”
Vita thanks our Program Directors for their hard work and for sharing their insights. We also want to recognize the other women who are part of our programs – whether they are refugees or American-born, employees or volunteers, students or supporters. Community service is about people, and we are privileged to know amazing, wonderful people.
Vita’s English as a Second Language students come from all over the world. Some have college degrees, while others have not finished elementary school. What they all share is a desire to learn, and that goes beyond just learning to speak English.
This month, ESL teacher Judith Gelb introduced her students to Presidents’ Day, and found them eager to learn more. While many were able to recognize recent presidents (particularly Joe Biden, Donald Trump, and Barrack Obama), they were curious to hear about George Washington and especially Abraham Lincoln.
“We talked about the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation,” Judith said, “and they were really interested to learn about it, especially because we had talked about Martin Luther King Jr. Day last month.” Students are eager to learn about US history and culture, which are especially important to them now that they have made their homes in the United States.
Teacher Jose Garcia agrees that holidays provide a good learning opportunity. While the curriculum, “focuses on daily life, situations at work and at school, things like…apply[ing] for a job,” talking about holidays is a chance to vary the conversation. On President’s day, Jose said, he talked about the role of the presidency in the government. Afterward, he takes students through activities like a crossword with clues based on the lesson, or having them solve a puzzle like those on Wheel of Fortune.
Students care about their new home. “[Our students] watch and read the news,” Judith said. “It makes them want to understand more about our government and how it works.” Focusing on important figures in our country makes history come alive. Engaging students in lessons and discussions like these not only helps them speak English, but also to be more at home here in the United States.
January 24th was International Education Day, on which we celebrate the power of education and the impact it has on individuals and communities around the world.
At Vita, we believe that adult literacy is a fundamental right and a key to unlocking opportunities and breaking cycles of poverty. We are so grateful for the support of our community and the dedication of our volunteers and staff who work tirelessly to empower
adults through education. Thank you for helping us make a difference and for supporting adult literacy education! To contribute to Vita, click the links below to volunteer, donate, and support our mission!
As 2023 begins, it’s a great time to think about fresh starts. Vita’s Jobs Readiness programs help returning citizens prepare for the difficulties of reentering the job market. Even for those with degrees or useful skills in trades like plumbing and carpentry, it is challenging to face starting over, and some reentrants have no formal work experience at all. Added to that, they have the disadvantage of being prejudged by many prospective employers, and they know it.
As a result of their limited or uneven work history, returning citizens often lack confidence – a situation familiar to many of us. Finding a job after incarceration often means starting over, and all of us can empathize when we think back to the beginnings of our own careers. Interviewing, crafting a resume, and even knowing how to search for jobs are all challenging, learned skills, and returning citizens have to relearn them, or learn them for the first time, while facing an additional handicap.
What they need most is a chance. “I don’t know anyone who hasn’t made a mistake,” notes Vita Board member and Jobs Readiness volunteer Maxine Katz. It is up to the rest of us to give returning citizens a chance to start over and remake their lives.
After 13 years teaching math at Vita, Maryjane McHugh is taking a well-earned retirement this February. Growing up, Maryjane ironically knew she didn’t want to be a teacher; instead, she had ambitions to learn programming, which led her to study mathematics. Life had other plans, however, and she soon found herself accepting a teaching job as much because the commute was practical as for any other reason.
She found the experience much more rewarding than she had expected, and it started a career as a teacher, then a department head, assistant principal, and
principal, setting her on the path that eventually led to Vita. Early in her career, Maryjane found she particularly liked teaching girls, because they expected to be poor at math and it was satisfying to help them discover that they had just as much potential as the boys.
She takes similar pleasure in working with adult students. Many of them had unpleasant experiences of high school, or never had the chance
to complete school, especially women and immigrants. This can cause them anxiety that holds them back, but it also means that they do not take education for granted. “They’re more respectful than any teenager,” Maryjane notes with a chuckle. She describes her students as motivated and determined, committing to learn despite many having children to raise or working two jobs. “Sometimes, they come in and ask me to help explain their childrens’ math homework,” she says. “One of my favorite parts [of teaching] is when they catch me making a mistake,” Maryjane explains with a smile. “It helps them feel comfortable making mistakes themselves, and that helps them learn.” Another
thing she enjoys is seeing her students work together and support each other, such as when students with limited English skills help translate and explain concepts to each other, or students who are taking to the material naturally share their work and help out those who are struggling.
An important lesson she learned is to actively solicit questions from her students, and even encourage them to share the stories of their lives. Getting to know them makes the class more comfortable with her, and with each other, and the mutual support they offer can be a powerful factor in helping them achieve success.
Maryjane, on behalf of your colleagues and especially your students, Vita thanks you for your years of hard work. A caring teacher can be a powerful influence on a student’s life, and we will always be grateful for your choice to spend your time among us. Once again, we hope you enjoy your retirement!
Thanksgiving is here, and we at Vita want to express how thankful we are for all of you who contribute to our work and form our community. Our dedicated teachers, staff, and volunteers provide the instruction and support our students need to thrive, and our donors’ support helps keep the agency staffed and our programs running.
Of course, our efforts are ultimately about our students, who make the time to educate themselves while working hard at jobs and caring for their children and inspire the rest of us with their determination. As ESL teacher Jose Garcia said, “I think that if I am able to have an impact…and make that little bit of a difference in their lives…that’s what keeps on bringing me back.”
That spirit has sustained Vita and fueled its growth over the years, and we believe it will continue to do so for years to come. Your contributions and commitment to our mission are what make this community great, and we are truly grateful to all of you.
In the meantime, we at Vita wish everyone a joyous holiday with your families and friends. You make Vita and our community great!
The Vita community is saddened by the recent passing of Peggy Blanco. Peggy brought her skills as an English teacher to Vita, teaching students in both our English as a Second Language and GED Preparation programs. More recently, she served as a member of Vita’s Board of Directors, continuing to support our mission.
In lieu of flowers, Peggy’s family has kindly asked that donations be made in her memory to support Vita’s programs and further her legacy of giving back to the community. To read more about Peggy and her memorial arrangements, you can view her obituary in the Bucks County Courier Times here.
We thank Peggy for her friendship and her years of work on Vita’s behalf, and offer our condolences to her family. Peggy, you will be missed.