Mike O'Leary


This month we are pleased to feature Mike O’Leary as our Volunteer Spotlight.

Mike joined Literacy Source in April 2016 as an ESOL tutor. Since then he has tutored four different students! Mike’s thoughtful and caring approach to his tutoring has been a huge asset in helping his students make progress. He worked with his most recent student to help him transition to the I-BEST program at community college, even going to the college to help him apply and support his transition to the college. 

In addition to tutoring Mike also volunteers with the Talk Times at Central and Fremont libraries. The Talk Time Coordinators say about Mike: “When he first showed up at Fremont Talk Time, the students who had previously worked with him at another location were thrilled to see him here. And he remembered all of them. He always has a smile on his face and enlivens any conversation he is a part of,” and “Mike is genuinely interested in the students' perspectives on life in the United States and he loves to have them compare it to life in their countries of origin. Mike has very thoughtful and observant comments when we debrief. He notices things others don't AND he is willing to go the extra mile not just for the students but to help out the other volunteers as well."  

He answered a few questions for us:

Where are you originally from? What brought you here?

I grew up in Spokane, Washington. In the early ‘80s I moved to Texas for a job and while I was there I met my wife and got married. We spent part of our honeymoon in Seattle. As we were enjoying the city and the Folklife Festival we said to each other, “We should really try to find a way to move here.” My wife finished her PhD in mathematics three years later and found a teaching position at Seattle Pacific University. I was working as a software developer, so of course I had many opportunities to look for work here.

Please share something of your life so far and what you would like to do in the future.

I am in a sort of transition time, in that I retired from software a couple of years ago after working in it for 31 years. I enjoyed doing things like soccer and baseball coaching with my children when they were younger, and now they are young adults whom I am very proud of. Right now I am volunteering at a real mixed bag of non-profit organizations, and I like each of them for various reasons. I think over time I will move toward more tutoring since I love languages and one to one interaction so much.

Why did you choose to volunteer at LS?

When I retired, I spent quite a bit of time wondering where to spend my volunteer hours. I have degrees in computer science and linguistics, which means several things: both in college and at work I spent a good bit of time with non-native English speakers, and I had great fun talking with them about English and learning a few phrases in their native languages; one of the high points of my college career was taking a summer intensive German course before I went to be an exchange student in Germany; and I have learned a lot of abstract, arcane things over the years about language syntax and sound systems, and how to represent them in computer programs. When I retired I decided to put all of the computer stuff behind me and try to apply what I knew to working with people instead. I found Literacy Source through a combination of looking on the web site volunteermatch.org and googling “ESL Seattle." I didn’t know anything about Literacy Source ahead of time, but I went to an orientation meeting and got quite a good impression of the organization, so I signed up to volunteer.

What do you like about volunteering at LS?

I like the Literacy Source staff so much. I feel very well supported in my tutoring, and the shelves of language materials have provided me with great resources. All of the students I have worked with (four of them now) have been incredibly motivated to go to college or otherwise to improve their work situations, and we have a lot of fun trying out various ways for them to learn the areas of their English knowledge that they want to improve in.

Any stories or highlights from volunteering at LS?

I think working with such motivated students has been an ongoing highlight for me, as is gradually getting to know each new student, their lives and what they want to do when they learn more English. Each has been different in their composition of skill levels as well as the direction they want to go in their lives, so that variety has also been enjoyable.

What might people not know about you?

I am a musical hack. That is, I enjoy learning about musical instruments and how to play them, but I am not particularly good at playing any of them. I go to the Seattle Mennonite Church, which is across the way from Literacy Source, and I am a member of a folk music group there. Over the years there have been between two and about ten of us, and we sing and play songs in the church three or four times a year.

Thank you Mike for going the extra mile, we really appreciate your commitment and dedication. You are a true asset to Literacy Source and adult learners!