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Ann Tabor Cecilia Zepeda library adult literacy program

Tutor Ann Tabor corrects a grammatical entry in Cecilia Zepeda's work at the American Canyon Library on April 24. Tabor and library officials say the Adult Literacy Program needs more tutors from American Canyon to help adult learners like Zepeda. 

Noel Brinkerhoff, Eagle

The Napa County Library is seeking volunteers in American Canyon to tutor adults who want to improve their English reading and writing skills.

Participating in the library’s Adult Literacy Program can be very rewarding, according to those who have served as tutors.

“It’s fulfilling because you’ll encounter a student like Cecilia who is eager to learn, and you can see her growth,” said Ann Tabor, 67, a retired nurse who has spent the past two years working with Cecilia Zepeda.

Zepeda, 33, an immigrant from Mexico now living with her husband in American Canyon, sought help through the literacy program so she could become a U.S. citizen, a goal she accomplished two years ago with Tabor’s assistance in preparing to take the citizenship test.

“I was excited” when practicing for the test, said Zepeda. “We worked hard.”

Zepeda also expressed enthusiasm about being able to vote in this year’s elections for the very first time.

“I am excited because I can do that now,” she said.

Tabor could relate to Zepeda’s effort to become a citizen because she is an immigrant as well.

“I came down from Canada in ’97,” Tabor said. “So I went through the same thing that Cecilia was going through.”

“Going through the immigration process I went through has been helpful because I can empathize with the learners,” she said.

Tabor and Zepeda have continued to work together as tutor and student, meeting twice a week at the American Canyon Library so Zepeda can continue improving her grammar and someday attend Napa Valley College to pursue a career as a nutritionist.

“She’s very precise, and she’s an eager student and she’s always trying to improve herself with her English,” Tabor said. “She speaks English at every opportunity she can. Even though she could maybe speak Spanish in the stores, she speaks English.”

Zepeda admits she gets nervous trying to use her English in public, but pushes herself to do so in order to gain confidence.

“Let me try,” she tells herself when the jitters arise.

Tabor has been tutoring adults for four years through the library’s literacy program after retiring as an ER nurse in Vallejo.

She said Zepeda has been her best student so far.

“The problem with the Latino community is, whereas Cecilia makes an effort to speak English, so many of them won’t practice their English” on their own time, said Tabor. “They’ll do it with me, but when they’re outside, they speak Spanish and don’t practice English so it takes longer for them to catch on.”

Tabor said the library needs more tutors in American Canyon, particularly those who are available during the evening. Most adult students work for a living, and only have free time at night.

Officials at the Napa County Library’s main branch in Napa agreed that they could use more adults to provide tutoring services to other adults, both immigrants and non-immigrants seeking help.

“Most of the tutors are retired because of the time commitment,” said Robin Rafael, the library’s literacy and volunteer services supervisor.

“Most of them love reading,” she said. Many are retired teachers, “but we get firemen and lawyers” and others who are well educated.

Tutors must be willing to commit to volunteering for at least six months, Rafael said, though most tend to do it for a year or longer.

People seek out literacy tutoring for different reasons, according to Nicole Thomas, a literacy associate at the Napa library.

They want to get their drivers license or pass the citizenship test or help their kids with their homework. “Usually it’s a specific goal they have in mind,” said Thomas.

Those interested in becoming a literacy tutor should contact Rafael at 707-253-4283 or robin.rafael@countyofnapa.org.

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American Canyon Eagle editor

Noel Brinkerhoff has been editor of the American Canyon Eagle since 2014. Prior to that he covered state politics in Sacramento for the California Journal.