What makes volunteers want to shout from the rooftops the wonderful things they’ve experienced with UMFS and continually return year after year? It’s the relationships they build along the way that make them want to exceed all expectations.
Brenda Litten is much more than a tutor—she’s a champion. For more than a year, she has been helping two boys, ages 13 and 17, with their reading skills. She sees them for an hour each week during the school year. While the academic progress both boys have made is impressive, it’s the “above and beyond” tutoring that makes Litten a UMFS champion. When he first came to tutoring, the younger student could not read at all. “He’s increased a thousand percent,” says Brenda, “When I saw him read, I almost cried.”
What makes Litten so special as a volunteer is her high level of investment in the lives of these two boys, and how her help extends beyond reading. She has had a major impact on their social skills and ability to get along with people, an impact that will help them complete the Circle of Courage: giving them a sense of belonging, helping them master their work, and encouraging their independence.
“Brenda has helped these boys create and foster healthy relationships with adults. They’ve never had that before,” said Tanya Salley-Goodwin, principal of the Charterhouse School at Edinburg. This has given them the extra boost that will help them create lasting, supportive relationships throughout their lives. At Charterhouse School, it’s not just about academics. “The students need more one-on-one attention.
If you can develop that relationship with them, then they will excel,” said Brenda. “My visits are a special time for them—sometimes all these kids need is a good hug or just someone to talk to.” Litten is happy to fill that need. “Brenda captures all three aspects of the work we do: program impact, community impact and client success,” said Angie Williams, volunteer coordinator for UMFS. “The boys have made great progress, and are successful and engaged with the community as a result of her efforts.”
A retired special education teacher, Litten has a natural rapport with students. “They trust me like a grandmother,” she says. “It happened the first day; they related to me.
I know they are comfortable with me because they confide in me. I can relate to what they are going through in their lives.” Litten’s investment in these children goes beyond the classroom. She took the younger boy out to celebrate his birthday because he was upset that there was no official celebration. “I thought he would pass out when he saw me, he was so excited!” Litten recalled. And when the other boy had a death in the family, she visited his family at home, which really meant a lot to him.
Litten volunteered at UMFS after seeing a notice in a church newsletter. She had just lost her son and thought that helping others would help her deal with her grief. “Tutoring has filled a void for me and given me a purpose: I leave the house and get to make a difference in someone’s life,” she said. “This is something I can do for me to make me feel good. I just needed to do it. It’s the best thing I ever did.”
She has not limited her involvement to just those she tutors. Litten also takes the time to get to know all the children, and she cares about their well-being. She attends after-school activities, including parties and games, and jumps right in to participate with the kids. “When you see how talented these kids are, you would be floored. It’s amazing what they can do. They are very special,” Litten said.
Direct interaction with the students is not her only contribution to the well-being of the school. She has also gone to neighboring libraries for book donations to start a library for Charterhouse School. Her goodwill extends to staff as well. “Brenda brings a ray of sunshine to us. She pats us on the back in the office and is very affirming,” Principal Salley-Goodwin said.
“We really appreciate her being here. She helps us see that what we do is really helping the kids.”
Litten feels blessed to volunteer among people who love their work and their students. “The teachers, the principal, everyone has a lot of compassion,” she noted, “and are special people who often deal with difficult situations. I would tell anyone to absolutely volunteer if they like being with children.”
Delivering whatever she is asked makes Brenda a stellar volunteer. “Her dedication and unwavering commitment to our kids makes her a true champion,” said Principal Salley-Goodwin.