How a Simple Volunteer Gig Became a "Heart-Opening" Experience

Chad Comello staff photo

November 18, 2019

By Chad Comello

Categories: In the Community, Spotlight

Libraries are a smart investment that transform lives and strengthen communities. As part of the Libraries Transform campaign, we’ll be highlighting local residents whose lives have been transformed by the Library in a variety of ways.

Have your own transformation story? Contact us at to share.

Jody Wilson ESL volunteer


My Library Transformation Story

by Jody Wilson

I was looking for a simple volunteer gig, something in the neighborhood, just a couple of hours a week. My mother had recently died, my husband and I were relatively new to Morton Grove, and I was still adjusting to retirement.

So I applied to be an ESL (English as a Second Language) one-on-one conversation partner at the Library. The program, led by super librarian Marlene Mark, provides opportunities for Library patrons to have regular meetings with a native English speaker to work on pronunciation, improve vocabulary, practice proper syntax, and ask unanswerable questions like: 

  • “What does it mean: Elvis has left the building?”
  • “Why is Colonel pronounced KERNEL?”
  • “Why does one rhyme with gun but not with lone?”

Marlene has a slew of great conversation starters, including a terrific short newspaper produced by Voice of America especially for ESL learners and countless interesting online resources. But I usually just ask “How’s the family?” and off we go.

Discussions range from relationships (“In English, your sister’s daughter is your daughter’s first cousin”) to health concerns (“In English, it’s called a gall bladder”) and, of course, food (“I don’t care what it’s called, it’s delicious!”) Spicy Korean chili, traditional Polish treats, and lovely Pakistani biryani have fed my body and our wide-ranging conversations and questions have fed my mind. 

We occasionally meet outside the library for lunch or tea. I’ve met their husbands, children, and grandchildren. We celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, read books together, commiserate over disappointments, offer each other advice and support, and take a loving and lively interest in each other’s lives.

What I was looking for was a simple volunteer gig. What I found was a transformative, heart-opening experience that changed the way I think about my language, focused and improved my reading habits, and sparked friendships I hope will last a lifetime.

Jody Wilson has lived in Morton Grove for 4 years and has volunteered at MGPL for a year and a half.