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Volunteer Spotlight: Jessica G

5 July 2017

In 2014 Jessica Gorski relocated to Philadelphia. The Pittsburgh native was working as an attorney for an insurance company, but felt like something was missing. She longed for a way to give back. Believing that there are few things more valuable than receiving a quality education, Jessica decided she would find a volunteer opportunity within education in the city of brotherly love.

While searching the web, she came across the Mayor’s Commission on Literacy, now the Office of Adult Education (OAE). The Office of Adult Education offers a free volunteer training program to prepare perspective volunteers to work with adults who are looking to improve their skills.

Adult literacy, a silent issue in Philadelphia, affects over 550,00 adults and their families. These adults need to develop their workforce literacy skills to compete in our knowledge based economy, complete secondary education, obtain family sustaining wages or prepare to participate in post-secondary programs. With a third of the City’s population in need and a history of under-funding, adult education programs rely heavily on dedicated volunteers.

After completing the Office of Adult Education’s Basic Tutor Training course, Jessica was matched to one of OAE’s largest partners, District 1199C Training and Upgrading Fund (District 1199C). District 1199C, located in the heart of Center City provides services to over 550 adults each year.

Jessica found herself tutoring adults in math. “There’s a long-standing joke that lawyers cannot do math. I didn’t pick math, math picked me. I was honestly a little intimidated when I was asked to tutor the math subject area, reading would have been much more in my comfort zone,” Jessica explains.

Volunteers are never asked to tutor in a subject that’s uncomfortable for them. However, with such a great need for volunteer tutors and very few of them, many find themselves teaching in subjects they would not have considered themselves experts.

“Tutoring is an opportunity to discover new talents or ones that have been hidden,” explains Catalina Gonzalez, OAE’s Volunteer Programs Manager. “We often see people that feel they are not good at a topic, especially math and science because that’s what they were told in school and they go through life thinking this.”

With support from the Office of Adult Education and District 1199C Jessica began tutoring pre-algebra. “Initially, the hardest thing about tutoring was learning how to teach concepts rather than just being able to do them,” Jessica explains.

That’s when Jessica met Tiffany. Tiffany, a Trolley Operator for SEPTA, came to District 1199C through the Office of Adult Education’s myPLACE℠ system, which has helped over 17,000 adults since launching in 2014. Looking to advance her career, Tiffany needed some assistance in preparing for SEPTA’s Dispatcher Exam.

“I love learning. My mom calls me a ‘life student’ because of how much I love to learn,” said Tiffany. “I knew I had to brush up on my math skills, and I thought that myPLACE℠ might be able to help me.”

Tutoring provides a unique opportunity for volunteers to work one-on-one and to make a direct, permanent impact on students’ lives. “Watching your students master topics and knowing you played a role in that learning is incredibly rewarding,” said Jessica.

“The connection I have with my tutor, and how my tutor understands the way I learn makes me lucky. Having someone who believes in you and pushes you makes all the difference,” said Tiffany.

Adult learners face many obstacles in returning to the classroom. Finding a time to meet with a tutor and studying can be challenging when juggling children, a job (or maybe two) and life responsibilities.

“Take a step, have faith and just do it! You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by investing in yourself. Once you start to get closer to your goal, it’s breathtaking,” Tiffany shares.

Tutors and learners often develop deep and special relationships where they end up teaching each other. “Tiffany has taught me to be more appreciative of the world around me. She has taught me about staying positive in the face of adversity. She has become my friend,” explains Jessica.

As Jessica prepares to move back to Pittsburgh she is confident that Tiffany will continue her education and pass her upcoming exam.

“You don’t have to be perfect to be a tutor.  There have been plenty of times that Tiffany has asked me a question to which my response has been, ‘I need to research that – let me give you the answer next week.’  I’ve had to relearn just about every concept I’ve taught.  Your students don’t expect perfection or wildly exciting and creative lesson plans.  They just expect you to come to each session with a plan and a desire to help them learn and grow in whichever subject you are working on together,” Jessica shares.

A special thank you to Jessica for her hard work and dedication.

For more information on volunteer opportunities, please contact

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