Student Organization Spotlight: English for Speakers of Other Languages For more than 20 years, ESOL volunteers have participated in language and literacy work in the Lexington-Rockbridge area and beyond.
English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) is a student organization at Washington and Lee University that strives to facilitate communication among the rural and increasingly diverse language communities of Rockbridge County. The organization aims to foster multilingualism and greater social equity in the local area through language learning and literacy initiatives. Student volunteers also participate in language and literacy work beyond the Lexington-Rockbridge region, thus returning to the community with greater cultural competency and a broader horizon of experiences.
Ellen Mayock, professor of Spanish at W&L and ESOL’s founder and adviser, said the organization has primarily engaged in teaching and tutoring since it started 21 years ago. As students began to form relationships with individuals and families who needed tutoring, requests began to trickle in for interpretation and translation services in a variety of other contexts. ESOL now has dedicated teams for tutoring and translation services, which are both directed and staffed by students. During the 2021-2022 academic year, student volunteers completed more than 9,000 hours of community service, averaging approximately 225 hours of ESOL-based service per week.
Community outreach and development co-chair Clara Albacete ’23 counts her work with ESOL as one of the most important and impactful aspects of her college experience.
“Working with ESOL has certainly given me a lot more confidence in my ideas and has shown me how big of an impact all the things we do — that sometimes feel little in the grand scheme of things — can have,” Albacete said.
As the local community’s needs have evolved, ESOL added a student-led interpretations wing to its offerings. The Immigrant Rights Clinic (IRC) at W&L’s School of Law was a natural partnership that tapped into undergraduate ESOL members’ talents and experiences for interpretation and translation services. The group has also branched out into volunteering for the Tax Clinic and other law school initiatives, providing undergraduate participants with valuable professional experiences interacting with W&L law faculty and students in their work with clients.
ESOL’s interpretation and translation teams partner with the IRC and community organizations to help individuals and families who might have a path to citizenship in completing documentation and learning more about community resources. Volunteer interpreters also assist with parent-teacher meetings, doctor appointments, and Virginia Department of Motor Vehicle appointments.
“The students really seem to enjoy the work,” said IRC director Matthew Boaz, “and I think our hope is that the number of undergraduate interpreters continues to grow.”
ESOL co-president Kamryn Godsey ’23 said what she values most about the program is the relationship-building and mutual learning between W&L students and the local community.
“Everybody has different backgrounds and everybody has something different to teach one another,” Godsey. “We’re learning from community members, they are learning from one another — everybody brings something unique to the table.”
The organization continually reaches out to community stakeholders to enhance and improve its offerings. After receiving feedback from local families about the dearth of accessible summer programming in Rockbridge County, ESOL created an academic enrichment program to fill this gap and ease the strain on under-resourced families during the summer months. Programa SOL 2022 — ESOL’s pilot summer program aimed at bolstering literacy — ran for four weeks in June 2022, which included one week of orientation for the program’s staff of eight W&L students and three weeks of programming for a group of 23 participants. Programa SOL’s mission is to increase confidence, encourage exploration and boost wellness for attendees through physical activity. Jayne Reino, visiting assistant professor of Spanish, serves as the program’s director.
“While last summer’s program was funded in large part through the work of our grant writing team and the support of local funding agencies, Programa SOL 2023 is extremely grateful to Fio Lewis in W&L’s Office of Inclusion and Engagement and the student organizations Comunidad Latina Estudiantil, Amnesty International, Kappa Alpha fraternity and the Student Association for International Learning for their highly successful fundraising programs to benefit Programa SOL and ensure its return this summer,” Mayock said.
Diana Rodriguez, who serves as ESOL co-president, emphasized that prospective and current students who might be interested in volunteering should know that a variety of skill sets are needed.
“We have a multitude of interpretation and language needs,” Rodriguez said. “In our area, you never know when someone might pop up needing language literacy assistance, be that in Spanish, Arabic, Swahili, Mandarin or Korean.”
Godsey emphasized that even students who do not speak a second language can get actively involved in helping ESOL through administrative or fundraising roles. As long as students are committed to the mission, there is room within the organization.
“We’re passionate about the work, ESOL’s mission and especially the people,” Godsey said.
Ben Bankston ’25, who serves as ESOL’s co-chair of community outreach and development, said the organization’s more than 50 volunteers are committed to its growth.
“It is our hope that alumni will be both proud and nostalgic to hear about the support ESOL is providing to the local community today,” Bankston said.