Spanish instructor shares teaching talents at local youth center

July 29, 2009

Connie Elmore, a Spanish instructor at Indiana State University, has been sharpening her teaching skills in a different sort of classroom this summer. She serves as a volunteer at Ryves Hall Youth Center where she teaches Spanish to children and adults.

"I like to keep busy during the summer and the work the center does is so important for the community," Elmore said.

The number of children Elmore teaches varies throughout the summer, but their enthusiasm has remained constant.

"They are just hungry for learning," she said.

In addition to children, Elmore also offers a course for adults. Most of those participants have been Ryves Hall staff or volunteers. This is the first time the center has been able to offer a Spanish class for adults.

Jim Edwards, director at Ryves Hall, said the classes will help the center ease fears that Spanish-speaking families may have.

"We're seeing more Hispanic children and adults come through our doors. For those that don't speak English or don't speak it very well, we can always point to something and they can understand, but it would be so much better to speak with them in their native language," Edwards said. "Then the hope is that they would go back to their families and tell them that this would be a good, safe place to bring their children."

The center, part of Catholic Charities Terre Haute, serves at-risk children through educational programs and other activities. More than 40 percent of those who frequent the center are minorities.

"These classes will help us in working with the Spanish-speaking children and adults that come into the center and better meet their needs," said Jim Pinkstaff, educational coordinator.

Pinkstaff, Edwards and other adults meet with Elmore twice a week for Spanish lessons in one of the center's meeting rooms. They are learning not just the language itself, but also more about Hispanic culture and customs.

Those lessons are proving quite valuable for Stephanie Grunewald, an Indiana State graduate student in school psychology. Grunewald is volunteering at the center this summer through AmeriCorps.

"My dissertation will focus on minority students, so this class is going to help me tremendously," she said.

Offering those kinds of services free of charge is what enables Ryves Hall to continue meeting needs in the community, Edwards said.

"We survive on volunteers," he said. "The children that we work with live in poverty and many cannot afford anything. Without the help of volunteers like Connie, we couldn't offer them the programs that they need to grow and develop."

For Elmore, giving back is its own reward.

"I've found that the children have a lot of things to teach me," she said. "Many come from rough circumstances, but they are truly happy and appreciative of things many of us take for granted."

Ryves Hall Youth Center is located in Etling Hall on the northwest corner of 14th and Locust streets in Terre Haute and is always looking for volunteers. To learn more, call 812-235-1265 or visit the center's Web site at www.ryveshall.org.

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Writer: Emily Taylor, assistant director of media relations, Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or emily.taylor@indstate.edu.


Photo: Connie Elmore begins a Spanish lesson for staff members and volunteers at Ryves Hall Youth Center. (ISU/Kara Berchem)