When Amy Rae Foss first visited the International Book Club at International House, she had no idea how that decision would impact her life … or how she would ultimately impact the lives of so many immigrants and refugees working to make a better life for themselves in Charlotte.
Originally from Minnesota, Amy Rae ended up in North Carolina after a three year stint as a Middle School English/Language Arts teacher in Arkansas. She works now for a healthcare software company and travels extensively to train medical personnel. Despite her hectic travel schedule, she always makes time to get back to Charlotte for her work as a Volunteer Instructor for Sunday afternoon Citizenship Classes. “I am actually rarely in Charlotte”, Amy explains. “There are times when I schedule my travel plans to get back to Charlotte just in time for Citizenship training, and then leave town again right after class.”
Why would Amy Rae make such a sacrifice in her travel plans? That’s easy for her to answer. “Education is something that I strongly value and I feel passionately that everyone – including people of all backgrounds – should have access to educational opportunities. Which is what I love about International House – it brings people together from all over our community and the world. ”
As much as her busy schedule requires a certain amount of personal sacrifice to prepare for her classes, Amy feels like she gets as much, if not more, in return from her students. “For me, the most rewarding thing about teaching is seeing the light bulb go off for someone – to see their excitement when they remember something and can apply it. At International House, this goes a step further when our Citizenship students actually become naturalized citizens and call or email me to let me know that they have passed! I love being a part of helping them accomplish it and celebrate all their hard work and success!”
Amy Rae also feels passionately that her students contribute significantly to the success of the greater Charlotte community. “Our students are from such diverse backgrounds and all their cultures, languages, traditions, etc. are beautiful. They add so much dimension and diversity to the Charlotte community.”
She also reminds us out that immigrants who ultimately achieve citizenship are able to contribute even more to their community. “Studies in Charlotte have shown”, Amy explains, “that adults who become naturalized citizens are better able to support their families financially and that their kids do better in school. I think that is such an important thing to remember. At International House, we help get them there.”
Issues concerning immigration in the United States often become highly charged political debates filled with numbers and statistics. In her position as a volunteer at International House, however, Amy Rae has the chance to see behind those numbers – to see the human face of hopes, dreams, struggles, fears, and the drive to preserve and protect family. “Some border towns have banned families from adopting/fostering kids from Central America. For many Americans, those are the only faces they see when they hear the word “immigrant”. People forget all the nations that immigrants come from, the struggles they have faced to get here, the hard work that they do, their kindness, and their compassion for people. It all comes down to stories. If people were to take a minute to talk to and listen, actually listen, to someone not born in the U.S. they would come to understand the person behind the title.”
In the end, Amy Rae is like most staff and volunteers at International House: she receives as much, if not more, than she gives. “There are so many students and classes that I’ve worked with who have created special memories and hold a special place in my heart. They are the most encouraging and grateful people that I encounter in any given week. ”
And would she recommend that others consider volunteering at International House? “Of course people should volunteer at International House! Where and when else can you meet people from such diverse backgrounds and learn from them? In our multicultural world, having the skills to interact with people from all over are increasingly important. It’s just such a rewarding and fulfilling experience.”
International House is fortunate to have hundreds of volunteers like Amy Rae – all doing their part to create a better life for our newest neighbors, our community, and ultimately – themselves. Thanks, Amy Rae!