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People making time for works with good intentions

By Marie P. Grady Special to Reminder Publications Like most company presidents, Tony Peterson has a lot of work on his hands. So, when the letter arrived from the Irene E. and George A. Davis Foundation asking businesses to participate in building a better workforce, it might easily have ended up lost in the shuffle. It might even have found its way to the circular file or an inbox that might best be labeled Good Intentions but No Time. Peterson might not have a lot of time, but he was raised with the belief that everyone deserves the chance to gain the skills and education to live a productive life. Maybe it was the memory of his Greek immigrant grandparents that caused him to open the letter and read it. Maybe it was the hard working employees at Atlantic Fasteners Co. Inc., a wholesale supplier of nuts and bolts to the commercial and aerospace markets. They have more than many of us at stake in their way of life. The West Springfield company is 100 percent owned by its 48 employees. Amid a thousand other demands, Peterson picked up the phone and called the Literacy Works Project at the Hampden County Regional Employment Board. He explained that he wanted to help, and he thought he might be able to help a new immigrant learn the English language. Peterson was soon connected with the West Springfield office of Lutheran Social Services of New England. From late last summer into fall, Peterson rolled up his sleeves at work and then he rolled out his empathy and natural teaching ability to help young students. One was Serghei Marcu, a native of Moldova who speaks Russian. Marcu soon found a job after Peterson s lessons. He will never forget his tutor. My teacher, Tony Peterson, is one of the best teachers in my life, said Marcu, who asked a friend to help translate his Russian. He s really passionate about teaching. He takes his work really seriously and responsibly. Peterson remembers receiving the letter from the Davis Foundation, which supports efforts ranging from the Cherish Every Child initiative to the Building a Better Workforce coalition. Brothers John and Stephen Davis, whose family ran American Saw, continue to invest in the community long after the plant was sold. I know the Davis brothers and have always respected their humbleness and generosity, Peterson recalled. I remember their father being that way, too. They are an inspiration. So were his grandparents. I felt it was my time in life to give back, help the community, Peterson said. My grandparents were Greek immigrants who worked hard so that my parents and their offspring (my siblings and me) could prosper. I wanted to help others get a good start so they, too, could have a better chance of thriving in America. Rebecca Schiffrin, assistant manager of international services and teacher at Lutheran Social Services, said Peterson left an impression. Tony was very enthusiastic and, using books, pictures and the computer, tailored his sessions to what the student was interested in and his level, she said. Maura Geary, Literacy Program Manager for the Regional Employment Board, said volunteers like Peterson are needed more than ever. We know that as the economy begins to recover, available jobs will require an educated workforce. This is a time when people can be improving their language, literacy and job readiness skills, but adult education programs are operating close to the bone. From Lutheran Social Services to the Holyoke Tutor-Mentor Program, volunteers play a key role in building a better future. They will be honored for their services at adult learning centers across the region in April, National Volunteer Month. For students like Marcu, they make an impact that will never be forgotten. I only wish there would be more teachers like that in this world, Marcu said. I m really thankful. Marie P. Grady is liaison for the Literacy Works Project of the Regional Employment Board. For information on volunteer opportunities at an adult education center near you, click on www.rebhc.org/pages/adult_education.html. Lutheran Social Services may be contacted via e-mail at rschiffrin@lcssne.org and the Holyoke Tutor-Mentor program may be contacted at holyoketutor@holycham.com.

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