RSVP member’s love of English bridges literacy gap

Nancy Pierce retired in 2001 as a registrar at a local hospital, but feels she may have missed her calling in life.

“I love English,” she said.

“I wish I had gone to college to be an English teacher.” I like the interaction between student and teacher.”

Nancy Pierce of Kaukauna is a member of RSVP and volunteers for the Fox Valley Literacy Council.

The 81 year-old Kaukauna resident uses her passion for language to help others. As a member of the Retired & Senior Volunteer 55+ Program, she tutored elementary school students for five years, then began helping adults at Fox Valley Literacy Council. Her last student was from China. Pierce tutored her once a week for a year.

“She could read really well, but she needed to work on her speech,” she said. She would always bring me Chinese food.”

Pierce notes that being a tutor is a two-way street. She not only helps her students with English, but also learns the language of her students. “I love languages and I like to think that I can spot French, German, Finnish and Japanese.”

Lifelong friendships also are forged.

Pierce remembers when St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Combined Locks sponsored a Hmong family in 1976.

“I tutored the mother and taught her how to drive,” she said. “I went to her house and taught her English with the books I got from the Literacy Council.

Pierce said the family’s six children graduated from Kimberly High School and went to college. Nancy was more than a tutor to the family – she was a godparent to one of their daughters.

“She was a babe in arms when they came off the plane,” Pierce said. “They only had the clothes on their backs. They lived in the parish basement for about a year and eventually bought a home in Kimberly. She still gives me zucchini.”

Norys Pina, the volunteer coordinator at Fox Valley Literacy Council, said tutors form a bond with their students.

“I always tell my volunteers when they are training that this is more than tutoring,” Pina said. “They are going to be building a relationship that is meaningful to both of them. We have tutors who have been together for four and five years, depending on the program. It is important to the volunteer to be part of our organization. They feel rewarded with the time they give.”

Pierce likes interacting with people. In addition to tutoring, she drives homebound friends to doctor’s appointments and grocery stores and plays piano for residents at Hallmark Place.

“I love life and I love people,” she said.