Cynthia Putnam

Left to right: Ewa Krawcyk (ESOL 2/3 teacher), Maria (student), Cynthia Putnam, and Wei (student)

Left to right: Ewa Krawcyk (ESOL 2/3 teacher), Maria (student), Cynthia Putnam, and Wei (student)

This month we are pleased to feature Cynthia Putnam as our Volunteer Spotlight.

Cynthia started volunteering at Literacy Source in December 2017 with the Talk Time class at the Central Library. Since her retirement, Cynthia has been very proactive about taking on more volunteering - in addition to volunteering at Talk Time, she also co-taught the ESOL 1 class last summer here at the Center. Cynthia felt she had gained enough experience to teach her own class this term, and has taken on the ESOL 2/3 class in addition to co-teaching the ESOL 1 class. We have really enjoyed supporting and seeing Cynthia's progress and growth as an ESOL teacher.

Here's what her co-teacher Ewa said about working with Cynthia: "Cynthia is very enthusiastic and organized, and wants not only to assist but also teach some parts of our lessons. She loves preparing extra exercises and handouts, and is always thinking ahead about what to do next with students. Cynthia is a lovely volunteer to work with!"

Here is a short interview with Cynthia:

Where are you originally from? If you’re not from Seattle what brought you here? 

I was born in Kansas and lived in Georgia and Rhode Island while growing up. I came to Seattle in 1978 after graduating from college on the East Coast. I had never been to the West Coast before but had heard about Seattle’s strong ethic of environmental conservation. I was attracted by this and interested in seeing it come to life in an urban setting. I fell in love with the place and people and have lived here ever since. 

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

Last year, I retired from a 35 year career in energy and resource conservation providing education and training for building engineering professionals. It was very rewarding for me personally and I’m so happy to see many dedicated young people picking up where we left off in this field. I see retirement as an opportunity to contribute to the community as a volunteer. I love to read and feel that the exposure to new ideas through reading is what makes life meaningful. As such, I wanted to focus on volunteer work that helped others improve their literacy and to develop their own love of reading. After exploring opportunities, I settled on Literacy Source.

Why did you choose to volunteer at LS? 

I chose Literacy Source because I wanted to work with adults and I wanted to work in an organization that supported its volunteers effectively. After attending Literacy Source’s volunteer orientation and an initial instructor training workshop, I realized I had stumbled upon an organization that would provide the perfect combination of teaching opportunities and support of volunteers.  

What do you like about volunteering at LS? 

There are so many things, I almost don’t know where to start. I love our students. They’re some of the most motivated, sincere and hardworking people I know. Working with them has been a culturally rich and rewarding experience. I feel I get as much as I give, if not more. I also love teaching and being immersed in the learning environment at LS. I appreciate that there are many choices for volunteer roles, and the volunteer positions are all well-defined with written job descriptions and preparatory training. I love to work collaboratively and have found the LS staff and other volunteers to be very open to team work, sharing ideas, and trying new ways to do things.  

Any stories or highlights from volunteering at LS? 

There are many examples but one that warms my heart is about one of our ESOL 1 students who recently advanced to ESOL 2/3. She came to LS without formal education or literacy in her native language. Her goal was to learn English in order to communicate with her family and make life easier and more enjoyable in Seattle. With no formal education, she faced a steep learning curve. She joined the ESOL 1 class in Spring 2018 and felt very challenged the first term. She sought the help of tutor and also teamed up with a fellow classmate (who shared her native language) to work on assignments together. With these aids, in combination with family support at home and her own determination, she steadily improved her skills and confidence. After 3 terms in ESOL 1, she advanced to ESOL 2. The new level is challenging for her but she’s found a great set of resources to help her reach her goals. It’s been a true joy to see her thrive at Literacy Source. 

What might people not know about you? 

I have a degree in Asian Studies with a focus on Chinese language and literature. While I took an entirely different direction with my professional career, I feel like my long lost Chinese might finally be useful to me as a volunteer at LS. 

Thank you so much Cynthia, we appreciate your dedication and hard work!