The Literacy Council of Sarasota: One of Martha’s Stories

Volunteering through The Literacy Council of Sarasota has been a truly rewarding experience. I have been working with Martha for nearly seven months now (my, how time flies). Martha is incredibly talented in many things, including aesthetics. She can read, speak and write fluently in Spanish and would like to be able to do the same with ease and confidence in English.

I admire Martha for her relentless determination and persistent desire to learn. 

Martha told me an incredible story in one of our sessions. While living in Columbia, she was going through a terrible divorce and feeling very down. She was at a point in her life where she was questioning her career. As she was watching the credits from a soap opera with a friend, she said out loud, “I want to see my name there. Martha B.!” Her friend laughed at the thought.

Martha decided it was time to do some research and find out where she could learn more about makeup artistry. She found the perfect class to attend, but she could not afford it. So Martha mustered up all her courage and determination and went to the senator of Columbia’s office (really!) She waited for him there all day. His secretary asked her if she had an appointment and she said no. The secretary said, “you must have an appointment to get in with the senator. What do you need to speak to him about?”

Martha explained that she needed to see him about the class she wanted more than anything to attend. It was her dream to take this class, she explained.

Martha is an animated storyteller. She and I went from laughing until our stomachs hurt to tear-filled eyes and a search for tissues.

After waiting for hours, Martha worked her way in to talk to the senator! She explained her conundrum and how she was determined to live her dream but could not afford the class. She left the senator’s office with a check for tuition and a promise to pay him back.

Martha excelled in her aesthetics class as she truly was born to be a makeup artist. Out of a class of twenty students, Martha was chosen to work with her teacher on the set of a movie. When she saw her name in the credits, her dream became a reality. She called her friend and said, “Do you know where my name is? Not in the credits of a soap opera, but in the credits of a MOVIE!”

This story is one of my favorites from tutoring over the past months.

I feel honored to be working with such an intelligent, eager learner. Every day I think about what I am going to show her next. Her eyes grow wide and she smiles when she has her “aha” moments, as do mine. It is so enlightening to share cultures, family stories, language and skills with each other.

jane iredale, a mineral makeup company, sent a Training Manual for Martha to use as a lesson tool. It is chock full of makeup application techniques, interesting vocabulary, pictures and products that spark discussions and inspire technical growth. The added benefits of tutoring using information that the learner is passionate about is most essential and critical to their highest levels of success and accomplishment. Thank you so much, Jane and Oona!

Did you know the English language requires an entirely different set of facial muscles for pronunciation then Spanish?

Mission: Literacy Council of Sarasota

We’re certified

The hubs and I completed 12 hours of training and are now certified ESOL (English as a second language) tutors! The training sessions were sort of long, but completely invaluable. We were encouraged to ask questions and practice communication techniques in small groups. We were shown materials specifically designed to prep us for our journey through the world of adult literacy.

What a wonderful sense of accomplishment; we now have the tools to volunteer for an organization with a mission we support and value.

I must timidly admit that at this point in the journey, I am terrified. We are ESOL certified, but what does that mean? I don’t know if I will be a good tutor and I wonder if what I bring to the table will be relevant to the learner. I am not a teacher, but I love to share my knowledge with people…I have always been drawn to the practice of teaching because to me it feels like giving. In past working environments, I have had to provide instruction to colleagues, but surely, this was going to be different. What am I getting myself into?

My learner

I was very intrigued by the description of this Colombian woman in her 40’s. She worked as a makeup artist for television and film in her native country, but when she lost her job due to cut-backs, she decided to seek a better career opportunity and life in America. She has been in the country for 10 years now and is working as a housekeeper in an assisted living home, not her dream job, by any means.

The challenge

This learner feels inadequate and uncomfortable in attempting to communicate makeup application and beauty enhancement techniques in an English-speaking environment. She fervently wants to pursue her chosen career in the aesthetics industry.

Not so foreign to me

I feel for her! I have been there. I studied the Spanish language for years and even student taught with my foreign language professor during my internship in high school. But, that’s certainly not comparable to being completely submerged and surrounded by foreign speakers.

When I went to Mexico with a friend I had met through our foreign exchange program, I was intimidated and too shy to speak in Spanish, afraid that I would make mistakes and look foolish in front of the native speakers. I kept silent the whole trip!


I will do my best to help my learner with the skills that are most important to her. My background is in marketing in the makeup industry (serendipity). This should be a true test of my self-confidence and patience. Wish me luck!

Tutor For The Literacy Council?

One warm, sunny Saturday afternoon in December, my hubby Kevin and I went to the downtown Sarasota farmer’s market. They have the freshest in local produce, fish, delicate tea and robust coffees, plants, olive oils and handmade baby toys and clothes, to name a few things. The market stretches through the Whole Foods Centre on Main and Lemon Ave. and is the delightful highlight of our weekend.

This particular Saturday, there was an information booth for the Literacy Council of Sarasota (LCS). I walked by and asked the man at the booth if there was a need for volunteers. His smile widened. “Always,” he said, and he handed me some paperwork.

Kev and I had been aiming to volunteer in some capacity in Florida, and this sounded just right.

Our first meeting was at the beginning of the month. It was mainly an informational session: about LCS, what they offer to the community, how we can help and how desperately they need volunteers. We met Marilyn, Karen and Kathy, the ladies who would be training us. They are wonderful people; driven by the desire to empower individuals to communicate more effectively.

We signed up! I think this is going to be a great experience for both of us. More to come…