Benedictine Sisters of Erie Home Home

Meet SBEC Volunteers

Helen Schneider

Helen Schneider, SBEC volunteer

Helen Schneider, a retired teacher, began tutoring refugees at SBEC about 3 years ago. “I have the time, the knowledge, and the interest in helping these newcomers to our community. They are so responsive and willing to learn!”

One day while bringing some unneeded household items to the Treasures and Such, Helen had a conversation with Sister Dorothy Stoner, worksite coordinator at SBEC, and has been a faithful volunteer ever since. “Helen has been a great gift to us. Helen has done after-school tutoring for children at the Neighborhood Art House and has found working with this new population to be quite different but just as satisfying”, says Sister Dorothy.

Helen finds the human interaction in her work most rewarding. She has developed close ties to some of her students. They bring pictures of children and grandchildren and she loves the way they say “Thank you Teacher!” with such frequency. Nonetheless, Helen acknowledges that this may not be everyone’s “cup of tea”. “You need to have a teacher’s instinct and a knack for working with people. Patience and the ability to communicate with body language are important. You need to be willing to try different things.”

Many of the refugees, Helen notes, are also inspired to learn by their own children. The children are in school and bring home math books and English books. “There is a lot of intergenerational learning that takes place. My students take pride in taking home papers they have worked on to show their children!”

Very creative, Helen brings lots of props to help her students: flash cards, a toolbox for the men, hairbrush, mirror, scarf for the women – anything that will assist with vocabulary development. It’s difficult, yet rewarding, work. What she finds most challenging is that language presents the main barrier to employment for these refugees. “It’s discouraging to have a student who is so conscientious and who I know would be a good worker, but doesn’t have English skills. 99.9% of them could work but for that.”

Also discouraging for Helen are members of the Erie community who do not support the SBEC programs for refugees. To such people, Helen would encourage them to try volunteering. They would then see for themselves how hard these people work. “I think about Pope Francis’ proclamation on a Year of Mercy. SBEC is Mercy-in-action!”