Volunteer Spotlight

Olivia Tran

Olivia Tran is a volunteer for our Women’s ESL Class. She began volunteering in the very beginning of 2020; in person and online. Today Olivia is in the spotlight. 

Olivia Tran recently graduated from the College of William & Mary, Class of 2021, with a BS in Neuroscience. She says “The big long term goal is to go to med school; become a doctor. I know teaching and ESL tutoring aren’t necessarily directly related to medicine, but it’s very important to me to be exposed to all different kinds of populations, all different kinds of diverse people. It’s good to exercise an open mind, because you know when you’re a doctor you see all different patients from all different kinds of personal backgrounds, cultures, societies, religions and those things may or may not influence their medical decisions, so it’s a big deal to keep my mind as open as possible.”

“So, I think HR3 has prepared me really well for my upcoming job at the Literacy Lab. I’ve just learned so much about teaching skills and strategies, well a lot of the stuff I’ve learned during my time was specifically for ESL Literacy Lab. It will be a little bit similar where I’ll be doing reading comprehension and writing skills for very young kids.  English is not their second language per se, but it’s kinda similar. Strengthening their English skills is important for entry into the real world. 

I don’t think I would’ve seen myself as a good fit for the Literacy Lab if I hadn’t started volunteering with HR3 because like I said earlier I didn’t really have any teaching experience.  Before I didn’t really consider myself to be a great teacher, but I’ve built skills I didn’t know I could do during the last year and a half. I think that anyone who is out there looking for volunteer opportunities and is looking to do good somewhere in the world can come here.”

We asked her some fun questions too: 

What is your favorite color? 

“My favorite color is lavender. My grandfather’s favorite flower was the lavender, and now every time I see it or the color lavender, I think of him!”

What is your favorite food? 

“My current food obsession is raw oysters on the half shell. It’s such a refreshing summer appetizer.”

What can’t you live without? 

“I absolutely cannot live without ice cream!”

Is there a favorite memory or student you liked working with you’d like to share?

“One that stands out to me before COVID, I remember the first 2 or 3 classes I tutored there was a woman, whose name I don’t remember unfortunately, who really struggled with the absolute basics of English. She struggled with the alphabet; she was still working on that while the rest of the class was a little more advanced, like a little more conversational, so I ended up just sitting at the corner of the table with her and I helped her with basic spelling and the alphabet. That day we were studying vegetables but she was falling behind. I remember pulling out my phone and showing her images of every vegetable. She communicated to me that yes I get it or no I don’t get it. I also really really liked working that day because all the other students were so helpful to each other and that’s what I really liked about tutoring with HR3. Everyone was just a very close knit community and everyone was very willing to help each other. And that was very heartwarming.

Tutoring at HR3 has been such a great experience; it opened doors for me that I didn’t know were there, leading me to pursue and volunteer a job through Americorps in tutoring kids in English starting this August. Again, the last year or so has been so transformative and fun, and I want to thank you for this wonderful opportunity!”

Thank you, Olivia, so glad to have had you on our team!

Taylor Diggs

Taylor Diggs is a volunteer for our Women’s Citizenship Class. She also provides tutoring to a brother and sister from Rwanda.  She began volunteering in November of 2020.  Today, Taylor is in the spotlight. 

Taylor attends Old Dominion University and majors in World Languages and Cultures.  She first learned there were refugees in Hampton Roads while taking a World Languages & Culture class. She says “it made me realize that some of my time could go towards helping them get to a place where they want to be. I definitely wanted to help be a part of people’s progress towards citizenship & communication with others in the country. That class really helped open my eyes.”

Taylor has big plans after ODU. She says “My ultimate goal is to be an interpreter and a translator for embassies as well as organizations. So that people can get the information that they need and to break barriers between cultures and groups of people. That is my passion job I guess I would call it.  

We asked her if there was a favorite memory or student she liked working with she’d like to share. She says “I would definitely have to say Andre* and Marie* were my biggest memorable moments because we connected on a level I have never really experienced before. Even though they are so young they have seen so much… Their history, their culture and how we compare it to African Americans versus Africans; the way they were treated here by other African Americans. It was very eye opening because I only have one perspective being black but they have a very different perspective, but we’re both black. She taught me Kiswahili and I helped her with French, Korean and English. The cultural exchange is just something that really makes me excited for translating & interpreting. This stuff really makes me very moved by people. I love talking and interacting with people. This means a lot to me, it’s very dear to my heart. 

We also asked her some fun questions too: 

What is your favorite color? 

“My favorite color is gold. I most enjoy seeing people decorated in garments/clothes that are gold. I think it is an absolutely beautiful color for both men and women. And it leaves me in awe every time. I’ve seen it in traditional Indian, Nigerian, Korean, and many other items of clothing from various cultures. It is just such a royal color to me.”

What is your favorite food? 

“My favorite food obsession right now is a strawberry, banana, and pineapple smoothie. It is so delicious and I have a craving for it every other day!”

What can’t you live without? 

“I cannot live without my small photo album. My photo album filled with pictures of me, my family, friends, and memories throughout life is one of my most important possessions. I will always take it no matter where I travel because there is nothing like having tangible photo memories. It keeps me happy when I am sad and lets me reflect on the memories that made me who I am today. If I was ever in a disaster, and I could only take one item, that would be it.”

Thank you, Taylor, so glad to have you on our team!

*The children’s names have been changed for their privacy and safety.

Gretchen Sosbee is a volunteer staff member of HR3’s Grant committee. She began volunteering in February 2021. She’s an officer in the Navy JAG corps, who had deployed to Afghanistan in her years of service. Today Gretchen is in the spotlight.  Take a look at her interview on August 19th with volunteer teacher, April Wells; herself a Navy veteran. 

Wells: So what do you do? 

Sosbee: When I’m not a volunteer, I’m an attorney for the United States Navy working primarily in the environmental world, working for the Navy Region mid-Atlantic in Norfolk. 

Wells: What is your goal with your career and how does volunteering play a part in that? 

Sosbee:  I’m at the tail end of my Navy career and so I was interested in volunteering with HR3 kinda as a way to explore other things I could be doing after I retire, and part of my bigger question of what I want to do with myself after the Navy.  

Wells: Why were you interested in refugees in particular? What brings you to that interest instead of a different volunteering path, like animals? 

Sosbee: Well, believe it or not, I walk dogs at the local animal shelter. That’s how I ended up with my dog. I walked her from the shelter and I was like ‘I gotta take this dog home!’

Wells: That’s amazing! 

Sosbee:  So I do a little bit of both. I will say it was probably my experience being deployed. Although it’s timely right now, my experience being deployed to Afghanistan; working with the local folks at the embassy in Kabul, and realizing how many of them were in the process of or interested in immigrating to the United States, kinda helped me understand a little more the challenges that refugees face. It’s something I’m very willing to spend my personal time with. That experience helped me understand a little more just the challenges that are faced by the local refugee community. 

Wells: How have you been holding up the last couple of days since the diaspora started? 

Sosbee: You know, I imagine anybody who sees the images on television, it’s hard to watch.  It is difficult, to some extent, to realize all the people who drove us around the country, gave us food and translated for us… I hope to goodness they are safe and taken care of but I’m still somewhat optimistic that those who want to come to the US find an avenue. I just hope they can speed it up so that they won’t be in harm’s way. 

After the interview, Wells also asked her some fun questions too: 

What is your favorite color? 

My favorite color is purple – I like seeing the color mostly in plants and flowers and try to plant it in my yard as much as I can.

What is your favorite food? 

I’m not sure if I have one, but slightly tangentially related is my random pandemic purchase of a 1 gallon water jug that I try to drink each day.  It looks a bit ridiculous carrying it into the office but it helps with this heat and humidity.

What can’t you live without? 

Also pandemic related but an app I have on my phone that helps me get my movement in every day.  It’s been rough spending so much time not leaving the house so it’s been a huge benefit and it’s the one thing I do every day.

Thank you, Gretchen, so glad to have had you on our team!

*Views expressed in this interview belong to the individual and are not the opinions or endorsement of the US Navy or Department of Defense.