The volunteer literacy group is a key part of welcoming refugees to Bangor
Growing up, Kara Schreiber had a speech impediment that made it difficult for others to understand her. Each year, her school put her in touch with a neighbor in her class who understood her well enough to translate when she tried to pronounce her name or communicate with others.
“I had empathy for people who were trying to say something and nobody knew what they were saying,” Schreiber said.
She then volunteered with Literacy Volunteers of Bangor, beginning in 1977, as a tutor for people learning English as a second language, and then trained those tutors.
She and Nancy Connor, another volunteer, trained dozens of people, from Vietnamese immigrants fleeing war in the 1970s to new residents of countries like Pakistan, Burma, Laos and Cambodia who wanted to learn enough English. to navigate bureaucratic processes like applying for a driver’s license or speaking with their doctor during medical appointments.
Connor started tutoring students in 1992 and later became a tutor trainer, working with dozens of people from countries including Brazil, Ukraine and China.
She and Schreiber both volunteered for Literacy Volunteers of Bangor for 75 years, as the organization grew from its roots as a 12-person volunteer agency to its current heritage as one that helps New Mainers to integrate into the community of Bangor.
About 15 refugees from Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo are expected to begin settling in the Bangor area in September after Catholic Charities Maine’s parent organization received the last year federal authorization to establish Bangor as a refugee resettlement city.
Catholic Charities is hiring staff to open an office in Brewer and plans to resettle those 15 refugees in Bangor by the end of September, spokeswoman Kathy Mockler said earlier this month.
Most refugees from Maine settled in towns in southern Maine, such as Portland, but a the growing housing crisis has forced municipal staff to rethink this strategy.
The Maine Multicultural Center, a coalition of Bangor-area community organizations that helps the resettlement process, identified According to Literacy Volunteers executive director Mary Marin Taylor, Literacy Volunteers is one organization to refer refugees to for help with services like literacy and language training.
Literacy Volunteers also helps people prepare for citizenship tests and other goals English learners may set.
This includes other cultural education that is not easy to teach, such as how to register a child for school or American customs like dinner etiquette.
A Macau woman whom Schreiber taught went from learning English via wordless picture books to getting her driver’s license, earning a general education degree and when opening his own business.
“You can easily become their defender,” Connor said. “In a sense, you’re saying, ‘Here are some resources I can give you’ or ‘Here’s where you can contact someone in social services who might be able to point you in the right direction.'”