LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – For more than three years, Dale Pekar has patiently and creatively tutored more than 150 adults who are learning English as a second language. Some of his students have short-term goals, such as getting a driver’s license. Some have long-term career goals in mind. Whatever their intentions, Pekar works with them to reach their potential. His efforts have resulted in his selection as Arkansas’ 2018 National Service Honoree.
Pekar is an AmeriCorps member volunteering with Literacy Action of Central Arkansas, having committed to 20 hours a week of service. After retiring in 2012, he began looking for opportunities to serve the community, and found his niche in the ESL classroom.
He teaches two classes a week on the campus of his own church, St. Edward’s Catholic Church near downtown Little Rock. Since he began, the St. Edward ESL program has doubled or tripled its student numbers, said Sara Drew, executive director of Literacy Action of Central Arkansas, who nominated him for the award.
Pekar plays an important role in the synergistic nature of AmeriCorps’ purpose. The national service program provides volunteers to organizations like Literacy Action, Literacy Action has the programs that serve the community, and local community organizations, such as St. Edward, provide the necessary resources that pull it all together.
“It’s a neat way to leverage these resources to make something bigger happen that would not be possible if any one organization tried to do it all,” Pekar explained. “It’s good for the volunteers, and I think it’s good for the community.”
While the impact is widespread, the individual students feel the most empowered.
“The teacher is so kind,” said Jacqueline Valenzuela. “He encourages us to do something different, and this class helps me a lot to be outgoing with other people.”
Encouraging students to come out of their shells is a main goal for Pekar, whose lesson plans include field trips, current events, and over-the-phone communications.
“He’s can make anything a teaching moment,” said fellow AmeriCorps member Felicia Mayfield, who describes him as creative and accessible.
Pekar goes out of his way to welcome and get to know each student, understanding what vocabulary skills, life skills, or cultural skills can benefit them the most, Drew said.
For Pekar, finding a rewarding way to use the free time afforded to him by retirement has been a fantastic experience.
“I think people have a lot to give. They’ve had a lot of life experiences,” said Pekar. “That can be beneficial to the community and to individuals and to themselves to get involved.”
To nominate someone for an Arkansas Community Service Award, go to VolunteerAR.org and click on Recognition at the bottom of the page.