By Julie Blum
Quynh Parlane could relate to some of the clients she helped this summer at the Literacy Council of Grand Island.
For about two months, she worked with students teaching them English and citizenship skills. Many were new to the community, arriving from another country just like Parlane did when she was young.
“I came here as a refugee. That’s very similar to a lot of their situations. I can share stories from my life and how I felt when I first came. It’s been a good way to connect with students here,” Parlane said.
The 43 year old has lived in Central City for the past year-and-a-half. She is from Vietnam and became a refugee when she was 5 years old staying at a refugee camp in Hong Kong for more than a year before arriving in the United States and reuniting with family members.
Parlane said her widowed mother wanted her and her sister to have better opportunities and get out of the communist country. After arriving America, they settled in Washington state.
Her life experience helped her during her work serving as a member of AmericaCorps VISTA, a national program that focuses on eliminating poverty. She was one of eight adults from the Grand Island area that spent time at five nonprofit agencies this summer from the end of May to the beginning of August.
Each were responsible for different tasks depending on what nonprofit they served. For Parlane, who has a background in teaching and a music degree, she filled different roles. She taught group classes, tutored, gathered resources for teachers and started a music literacy class that helped students learn vocabulary through song.
It wasn’t her first time teaching the language. She served with a mission organization overseas for 14 years in Bangladesh. Her primary role was helping those there learn English.
Even with that background, her time at the literacy council was a great learning experience. She said she knew the percentages of the immigrant population living here, but didn’t know the situations people were coming from.
“It’s been eye-opening for me to realize the sacrifices people make to be here and how they are so grateful for the job they have. It puts a face to the numbers and statistics,” Parlane said on her last day at the literacy council on Thursday.
That is a similar reaction Kylie Gokie had working at Big Brothers Big Sisters this summer through AmericaCorps VISTA. There she served as an enrollment specialist interviewing children and their families for the mentoring program.
“To have people tell me their stories and everything they have been through has been life changing. It makes you take a step back. You would never guess these people have been through so many different things,” Gokie said.
The 23 year old is a Lincoln native and moved to Grand Island a few months ago. She is currently working on earning her master’s degree in physical education and health from Hastings College where she also serves as an assistant for the track team.
Spending time at the nonprofit made her a more empathetic person because of the visits she had with families that wanted their children to be matched with a mentor through Big Brothers Big Sisters.
She interviewed families in their homes, speaking to both children and their caretakers. That is how she was enlightened to the struggles that some go through.
“We had training talking about the poverty in Grand Island and to be honest, I’ve never been exposed to a lot of poverty and families that have been through trauma,” Gokie said.
Learning about struggles some have endured will be on her mind when she returns to school. She will be more patient and not so quick to be critical of someone else’s behavior.
“It’s so easy to judge if a kid is having a bad day or a college athlete who is off at practice. It’s easy to say that they aren’t trying hard or just not deal with it. It’s a good reminder to me that there is a lot more going on than I had any idea about,” she said.
Gokie feels like being at the nonprofit made a difference, not only because of the lessons she learned for herself but for the 12 children she helped sign up to be matched with a mentor. Though it was never in her plans before, Gokie said she is open to becoming a mentor herself someday because of her experience at Big Brothers Big Sisters.
For Parlane, she too plans to build upon her experience she had at the literacy council. She said she and one of her daughters plan on volunteering there in the future tutoring students.
“When I came here, there were so many people who were supportive of my family. This is one way to give back and pass it on,” she said.