Volunteer Stories: Donna Wiley

Donna Wiley smiling in the foreground with Lisbon in the background
Donna Wiley

Donna Wiley has volunteered as an English language tutor at Center for New Americans (CNA) for the past five years. Her work with CNA students has left a lasting impact on their lives, and they have left an equally profound impression on her. Her story parallels the experiences of many of CNA’s committed volunteers.

Fifteen years ago, Donna and her husband learned about CNA and its remarkable work supporting immigrants and refugees. After retiring from full-time work, she wanted to find ways to give back to the community. Donna says, “[As I] began to think about how to spend my volunteer time, I wanted to try things I hadn’t done before—like teaching! It’s been challenging and exhilarating to calibrate the content and pace of each weekly session to each student’s needs.”

As a tutor, Donna has worked with students from Afghanistan, Cambodia, Ecuador, and Peru. She expresses deep admiration for her students and all the newcomers who have found their way to the CNA.

“I have lived outside the United States twice in my life, so I know a bit about the day-to-day challenges of new culture and expectations. But I also knew each time that I would be coming home. The courage of our CNA students, who come to a strange place in the hope of finding a better life for themselves and their families, is astounding.”

Her words echo the sentiments of many volunteers at CNA, who are continually inspired by the strength and resilience of those they assist. They’ve seen the difference they can make by helping to navigate the challenges of a new country. “There are so many hurdles,” Donna says. “Where do I find winter coats for my kids? How do I sign up with a doctor’s office? What are the U.S. rules for visa applications this week, and how do I help my elderly father to see his grandchildren?”

As a tutor, Donna helps her students navigate the complexities of learning English. She firmly believes in personalized education, understanding that every student’s needs are unique. “Adjusting lessons to each student’s needs has been challenging and exciting,” she says. She clearly recognizes that learning should be fun as well as practical.

Donna adds, “I hope that my tutoring sessions provide a safe space to improve command of the English language in a way that is both fun and useful. Whether working our way through the impenetrable study guides for the Massachusetts driver’s license tests, puzzling about the endless grammatical exceptions and inconsistent pronunciation rules of the English language, or reading news articles or short stories chosen for content and new vocabulary, we do our best to make progress together.”

Donna’s dedication and hard work is a testament to the collective effort of CNA’s staff and volunteers, who are deeply committed to supporting students in their journey towards a brighter future.