Highlighting an Extraordinary Group of Volunteers

Submitted by Robert Miranda on Fri, 04/16/2021 - 10:00 AM
Virtual Homework Coaches

Seeing as National Volunteer Recognition Week is quickly approaching, we wanted to begin highlighting some of our wonderful volunteers.

We want to focus on the extraordinary group of volunteers who serve as Virtual Homework Club Coaches. Before the pandemic, this program took place in person at our branches – but necessity is the mother of invention, and these volunteers are just some of those who jumped at the opportunity to assist K-8th grade students with their homework.

This program recruits new volunteers every late Summer to get them trained for the incoming school year. Here are just a few of the fantastic individuals working hard to ensure local students thrive academically during the pandemic.

Jeff Englander

Photo of Jeff Englander

Jeff has a love of learning, sharing and caring. As a rehab doctor at Valley Medical Center for 27 years he helped countless patients. Now that he is retired, he devotes his energy to several causes as a volunteer, including the San José Public Library’s Virtual Homework Club. With his patience, science background, and Spanish language skills, Jeff is a valued member of the Homework Club team.

In addition to volunteering as a Homework Coach for the library, Jeff also volunteers with the library’s Partners in Reading department, the Environmental Volunteers, as a Friendly Visitor for the Jewish Family Service, working with the San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory, supporting political campaigns, and being on the curriculum committee of OSHER Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at Santa Clara University. On top of all that he also goes back to help out Valley Medical Center as needed.

A chat with Jeff:

  • My first job... I was encouraged by my dad at an early age to get a job, learn to do it well, treat your customers well, and all that… Work Ethic with a capital W!
  • I am most proud of... I think that I’ve been able to pick things that I put my energy into that are worthwhile. I’ve been lucky to have had the background, in my family and in my education, to be able to put whatever talent or skills I have to good use.
  • My role model... I have been lucky to have had some really good role models in my life… like my summer camp director, my 2nd grade teacher, my 6th grade teacher, my Latin teacher in high school, people at the University of Michigan that gave me the freedom to explore what was important to me.
  • Libraries are... I always liked libraries, since I was a young child. Ever since I can remember, my mother took me to libraries. Now I go to the West Valley and Calabazas branches and the MLK library downtown of the San Jose Libraries, and the Saratoga branch of the County Libraries. Wonderful programs!

John Bertschy

Photo of John Bertschy

From the beginning, John demonstrated a strong work ethic and genuine concern for the students he coached. Regardless of the challenges students faced, John carried on with patience and encouraged each student to achieve their goals. This made him a requested coach time and again. John has been a tremendous asset to the Homework Club community and we would be honored to continue working with him.

A chat with John:

  • As a child... I often went to the library and it took until 4th grade before my mother could get me to read anything that was not nonfiction. I read biographies for example - Luther Burbank and anything about animals. In 3rd grade I wanted to be a zoologist. What changed that was my introduction to the Hardy Boys and Tom Swift.
  • My community... has dwindled in the time of the coronavirus pandemic to nearly only telephone and computer.
  • I volunteer... to feel somewhat useful to society – still. I retired almost 2 years ago, and especially in times of pandemic, I’m not able to do some of the things I used to do.
  • If I weren't volunteering, I'd be... be volunteering someplace else. Many of the things that I like, I’m a member of a symphonic band in Saratoga and we haven’t met since early March. And I’m a member of a choir at the German club in downtown San Jose.

Annika Ling

Photo of Annika Ling

Annika always showed up to volunteer with a smile. She stayed each week with her assigned student until the very end of homework club. When she came back to the main room to say goodbye, she always highlighted and focused on many of the students' strengths. Annika had many students asking to work with her again. Her cheerful, friendly demeanor combined with her "can do" attitude were beneficial to the students with whom she worked.

A chat with Annika:

  • My first job... was being a babysitter or a student.
  • My fondest memory... is traveling with my family around the world.
  • I am most proud of... being able to help others who are in need.
  • My biggest challenge... is deciding what the best use of my time would be.

Jesse Galeana

Photo of Jesse Galeana

Jesse is one of the finest Virtual Homework Club Coaches we have ever had the pleasure to know. Not only can he coach in Spanish, he is studying at San José State to become a math educator. He has a very positive attitude, is patient with students and enthusiastic and determined to see that the succeed – both academically and personally. We are very fortunate indeed to have Jesse as a coach and role model for future generations.

A chat with Jesse:

  • I am most proud of... deciding to go to San José State – choosing to continue my education. That’s the only thing that should matter. I most proud about going into education – I’m focusing on math – there’s a really high need for math educators. It’s a hard subject – and kids want to give up. I’m willing to go through that to help students and motivate them. Those teachers that helped me are friends now. I want to have those relationships.
  • My biggest challenge... was prioritizing and time management – and the way I overcame this challenge is by learning my job at 15 years old I was trying to balance everything – work, school and my outside life. Now I can balance. I try to keep my A game going. I think I overcame it by pushing my limits and seeing what I can do better next time.
  • My favorite book is... Harry Potter. Just the story in general of 3 friends always helping each other. If I had to choose a favorite one – Sorcerer’s Stone. 3 students, despite the hate all around them – their friendship is strong. They’re getting through. Books have different meanings for people but for me this about friendship and family.
  • I volunteer... at the Virtual Homework Club. I usually volunteer with programs that have to do with teaching someone something new. Something I’ve always enjoyed doing. At school events – learning something new. Teaching parents about college. I volunteer at events that are giving back to the community, helping the community or teaching someone something new. Those are the type of events I like to volunteer at.

Cordelia Athas

Photo of Cordelia Athas

She excelled at assisting students, helping them engage and focus on their homework. Cordelia asked thoughtful questions to encourage her students to think as they worked through their assignments. She was observed to be patient and kind in her interactions. Once the students had an opportunity to work with Cordelia, she was frequently requested by name again.

A chat with Cordelia:

  • My first job... was at a goat farm.
  • I am most proud of... how I have been able to adopt new skills during the pandemic.
  • My role model... is my best friend Cassandra Avendano. She's super fun, creative and kind.
  • My community... is something that plays a large role in my life, I am very fortunate to be part of many different communities, such as school and volunteering and I enjoy contributing to them.

Duru Unsal

Photo of Duru Unsal

Duru is a lovely person both inside and out. She always has a smile on her face and a positive attitude. As a Virtual Homework Club Volunteer, Duru’s reliability and patience with the students she helps are an indication of her inner maturity. She is also generous with her time, volunteering multiple days a week. Librarians who have worked with her have all come to count on her as a Homework Coach who can be relied on to work well and get along with the students. Finally, several of her repeat students have asked for her by name.

A chat with Duru:

  • As a child... I was a very active and energetic child. My life was constantly filled with different activities like soccer and gymnastics. I did a lot.
  • I am most proud of... my ability to self motivate and to be open to new things. That has gotten me to experience so much more than I think I would have if I had been more closed off. And I think that open mindset has given me a different perspective on life.
  • My role model... my mom - she’s shaped me into who I am. I’ve learned so much from her. I’ve gotten my sense of independence from her. She’s taught me how to be a good person in this world… to give back to my community and the importance of all of it - which I really appreciate.
  • Libraries are... a safe place. There’s something very bright and happy about libraries. I grew up going to the Mountain View Library and it’s filled with a bunch of windows so it was always bright and sunny inside. I love natural sunlight. I also remember in second or third grade at my elementary school, we had a “Library Club” - about 10 kids and we would just shelve books. For some reason, the Dewey decimal system amazed us - and all of us loved the organization - so all of us would just go down there for an hour every week and just shelve books!

Ashton Liu

Photo of Ashton Liu

It’s because of volunteers like Ashton Liu that make San José Public Library’s Virtual Homework Club such a huge success. Ashton excels in all subjects, and he is especially proficient in advanced math and Mandarin. Ashton’s dedication, calm demeanor, and easygoing personality is appreciated both students and staff, and he always goes above and beyond. Before the pandemic, Ashton previously volunteered at Cambrian Branch Library as a Tech Mentor and a Reading Buddy.

A chat with Ashton:

  • My first job... has yet to come. Work that I have done that comes close to a job would be volunteering for my local libraries since 2017.
  • My fondest memory... is visiting Taiwan to visit my grandparents and enjoying the Taiwanese lifestyle
  • I am most proud of... the many awards I have received from piano competitions.
  • My community... has assisted me in learning about what it means to be a well-rounded individual.

Hannah Park

Photo of Hannah Park

Hannah has been one of the Virtual Homework Club’s most outstanding volunteers. Her tutoring skills are exceptional. She is able to match her instructions and guidance to the intellectual level of her students. In addition, she has a kind, gentle, and encouraging style of interacting with students that helps motivate them through challenging assignments. The children love working with her and frequently ask to work with her again. Hannah is making a difference in the lives of the students she serves by supporting their learning and academic success.

A chat with Hannah:

  • I am most proud of... being able to volunteer at the library every week! I think that I was very nervous at first, but I have been able to come back each week on time and have a good time.
  • My biggest challenge... is self-improvement. It's difficult learning things on my own; especially without access to outside help during this pandemic.
  • My community... is engaged; they are willing to support one another and are willing / ready to learn! Every kid I've met when volunteering was eager and ready.
  • If I had a superpower, it would be... time travel or flight! Time travel is an overpowered superpower that can also vary, but flight is also a great option for fast traveling and sightseeing.

Hannah Thomas

Photo of Hannah Thomas

Hannah’s dedication, warmth, and tutoring skills have impressed everyone associated with the Virtual Homework Club. Hannah is one of our most requested coaches. The children who work with her almost always want to work with her again. This is a testament not only to her skills as a tutor, but to the warmth and friendliness she extends to all the children she coaches. The librarians who supervise Homework Club feel so grateful to Hannah for her contribution to the program and the lives of the children it serves.

A chat with Hannah:

  • My fondest memory... was when I taught multiplication to a second grader during tutoring. I taught her what the times table was and helped her with her quick math skills.
  • I am most proud of... staying with SJPL for three years and being able to volunteer on a weekly basis.
  • My biggest challenge... is not being able to tutor children in person. It is very hard to teach virtually.
  • I volunteer... so I can help people around me. I realized that there are a lot of people who do not have the same opportunities as me. Being a Homework Club volunteer helps me ensure that kids receive the help they need in their education.
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