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Education Matters: Lessons Learned from a Volunteer Tutor

Meet Clare Spaulding! Originally from a suburb of Columbus, Ohio, she’s lived in Chicagoland for nearly eight years. Clare works at Communities In Schools of Chicago, an education non-profit that partners with 238 Chicago Public Schools to provide no-cost programming. She resides in Lincoln Park with her husband of 2.5 years, both active members of Park Community Church. Clare’s passions include historical fiction and outdoor activities like walking, running, pickleball, and hiking.

How did you become interested in volunteering as a tutor?

It was a combination of work and my church. At work, hearing from so many school counselors about the need for tutors and understanding how vital they are to many programs, I felt compelled to volunteer in some way to help fill that need. Around that same time, my church sent out an email blast that World Relief was looking for volunteers for a slew of roles, including youth tutoring. It felt like the Lord clearly pointing me in the direction he wanted me to go. 

What are the most rewarding things about tutoring?

These families are so generous, welcoming, loving, and kind. Getting to come into their homes is such a vulnerability on their part, yet they do it with grace and generosity. I love getting to feel so connected to the entire family, not just the students I’m tutoring. Plus, seeing them grow in their English is cool.

What have been some challenges?

One of the more challenging things I’ve had to navigate is setting boundaries around my relationships with the families I’ve tutored. They are so welcoming, bringing you into their home and treating you like part of the family. But sometimes, that meant our time wasn’t always spent on homework help or tutoring! It was still time well spent, but I think I’ve had to learn when to say no sometimes and keep us on track with what we’re trying to accomplish.

What have you learned?

It’s been eye-opening to see how many challenges folks coming to the US face in their day-to-day lives. This experience has grown my empathy and admiration of these people, who persist even when language is such a huge barrier. It’s taught me how I can use my relationship with them to advocate for the things they need.

How have you been inspired by the students you’ve worked with?

They inspire me every week to be more resilient and exude their same compassion for all people. The fact that they come to a new city, often not knowing anyone, and continue showing up at school and seeking tutoring support –all with a smile on their faces—gives me reassurance I can do hard things, too.

What would you say to someone who is thinking about volunteering?

Volunteer tutoring is so worth the investment of your time, energy, and skills. As much effort I’ve given through tutoring, these students and families give back even more to me in care, compassion, and delicious food. There are challenging moments and hard weeks, but getting to become a part of their lives and their support systems in Chicago makes it all worth it. 

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