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From our Volunteers: Steph Garber

I still remember getting an email a few years ago with several new volunteer opportunities which might be of interest to me to do at home. I scanned down and came across College Guild, which I needed to research since I had never heard of them before. What a wonderful find to learn of the good work they do.

Having just studied our penal system in Florida where I live, I had an interest which I would not have held before, since I had previously been very naïve about our prison population. So I thought, why not give this a try?

The training was very straightforward and simple in order to become a reader. Every 5 to 6 weeks I would get an email with a student’s written replies to questions posed by the College Guild program after completing one of the units within the course guide. It was made clear to me that I should be encouraging the student so that they will continue to study. With communications from the College Guild organization, I soon learned it was very valuable to the lives of those behind bars. Every month I got a different student and almost always, a different subject.

My first year I read about art, including Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent and William Turner, all artists about whom I knew absolutely nothing! I learned right along with the student. Some months I would get gardening units, including Japanese gardens, herbs and history as well as trees and shrubs. Once again, I was exposed to a topic that would teach me at the same time as I read student work. At the age of 66, the reason I didn’t know about any of these things was because frankly, they didn’t interest me too much. It was good for my brain to get educated about something, but I was ready for a change.

I am a touchy-feely person, so I looked through the list of courses, and the ones dealing with family looked like they would be an ideal fit for me. I spoke to College Guild and asked if they could assign me units from those courses for the future. I was amazed by how much I looked forward to getting my assignment each month and how I found it incredibly interesting to hear what those who are incarcerated think about what life is or should be for families outside of the prison system. I found some excellent writers, and some very poor writers, but I knew with time I would see improvements if they could stick with the program. I sent encouragement regardless of their ability.

This work has proved to be so rewarding for me and I hope that you have found the same! I’ll write a short blog post every month or so, and if you have thoughts or reactions please share them. We are all in this together and it truly does take a village.

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