Read To Succeed volunteers change lives--their's too!

Jul 29, 2011 at 10:32 pm by bryan

Susan Elkins has a stack of note cards sitting on her desk, where she works as a Workers Comp Adjuster in Nashville, waiting to be written on. She wants to write a note to the English as a Second Language students she taught last year, just to say hi. To tell them that she’s still rooting for them. But she just can’t bring herself to write them. Every time she starts, she feels like she might cry.

“I already miss them so much,” Elkins says.

During her time as a volunteer ESL instructor for Read To Succeed’s classes, Elkins grew so attached to her students that she considers them, without hesitation, “good friends.” The 10 students that showed up to the twice-a-week class came so consistently, that when one was missing, Elkins knew something was wrong. The group became so close, Elkins says, that one of the best parts of her experience was watching these former strangers’ relationships evolve. Before, they only had their desire to learn English in common. At the end, they were all “lifelong friends.”

Elkins, who lives in Nashville, has been working with literacy causes for 20 years. After a long stint at the Nashville Adult Literacy Council years ago, she moved to Murfreesboro with her husband (still making the daily commute to Nashville for work). After settling in, her husband pointed to an article in the paper about something unrelated, and right next to it was an article about Read To Succeed needing volunteers. She jumped at the chance.

“I’ve always felt like, if I’m not doing something for somebody else, I might as well not be here,” Elkins says. “I enjoy [working with] ESL. I get so much out of it. To watch someone learn something that’s going to help them in their everyday life, to know you were a part of it—that’s something no one can take away from you.”

This fall, Read To Succeed will start its second year of ESL classes. These classes are offered at St. Luke’s Church in Smyrna, LaVergne Lake Elementary School, St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, and Bradley Elementary School. RTS needs more volunteers to make the program a success. Volunteer teachers and tutors will help lead the class, or work one-on-one with students needing additional help. Spanish skills are not required.

Volunteers first need to attend a two-day training on August 13 and 20 from 10am to 4pm at the Lon Nuell Family Literacy Center in Murfreesboro’s First Baptist Church. ESL classes will begin after Labor Day.

Students range from emergent speakers with little to no English skills to people who speak English well but might need help with reading and writing. And more than anything, most of these students just need more confidence in their ability.

“A lot of our students understand English when they first come to our classes,” says Read To Succeed Adult Literacy Coordinator Shelly Stanley. “They’re just not confident enough to respond, so other people think they don’t understand anything. It takes somebody working with them to build that confidence.”

Elkins says she couldn’t agree more that each student’s self-assurance is key.

“My students came such a long way,” she says. “They would always think they weren’t getting any better, and I’d tell them, ‘You have no idea.’ Each week, they could answer questions they never could have the week before.”

For more information on Read To Succeed and to sign up to volunteer for ESL classes, visit, call 615-738-READ, or e-mail