When she was a tutor, Amy Akiyama’s favorite children to work with were the most challenging students.
“Those kids took extra effort to work with,” she remembers, “but in the end…I’ll never forget them.”
She loved the challenge of communicating difficult reading concepts to children who were dealing with the learning disadvantages of living in impoverished homes. She also enjoyed the extra creativity needed to get children with behavioral issues excited about reading lessons. Most of all, she loved the chance to mentor young children and watch them grow.
During her two years tutoring with us, she came to believe that the students benefited most simply from the consistency of a Literacy First tutor “just showing them love every day, and picking them up from class, and being there for them.” The rapport that she built with her students transformed her as well as the students themselves: her relationships with them, she says, “really taught me even more than I feel like I taught them.”
Amy says that while she spent her time changing lives by giving her students confidence, Literacy First staff members were busy providing the mentorship and giving her the confidence that would change her own life.
“I was kind of at this weird place,” she says, describing her experience of leaving her college in the Pacific Northwest halfway through her degree to decide what career path she wanted to take. Since she had always enjoyed working with kids, her cousin Danielle, who served with us during the 2011-2012 school year, encouraged her to moved down to Austin and give Literacy First a try during her ‘gap year.’
While Amy fully expected to enjoy tutoring children, she had no idea how much the mentorship from her supervisors would mean to her. “I really loved the influence of the people who worked for the program,” she says, adding that AmeriCorps service “really helped me build my resume, and it helped me gain the confidence to figure out what I wanted to do and what I’d be good at.” The leadership skills and confidence that she gained under the guidance of her supervisors, combined with the relationships she had built with her students, inspired Amy to return for a second year.
“I did a second year and I loved it,” she remembers, “and then I was ready to go back to school. [Literacy First] was a really good segue into figuring out what I wanted to do, what my gifts were, and what skills I could apply toward a job that I could have long-term.” Amy earned a degree in Applied Arts and Sciences at Texas State University. After graduating, she moved back to Oregon to be close to her family.
Amy supported her students while Literacy First supported her. And now Amy’s story has come full circle. She has decided to support our program by setting up a monthly pledge. When asked why , she says she “wanted to stay connected somehow” after leaving Literacy First to finish her degree: “I am still passionate about early literacy and the program even though I’m doing something else… I feel like I’ve been so influenced by the amazing people who work at [Literacy First], and I just want to give back to that in the small way that I can.”
She also mentions how much we have expanded our reach even during her two years tutoring for us, and she cites that growth as another reason to give as Literacy First looks toward the future. “There are so many potential opportunities and great ways to go,” she says excitedly, “and I am 100% confident in the leadership here, that they will know the best path to take. I just want to be part of that, even though I can’t be a tutor right now.”
Amy has also given human resources as well as financial resources: having been recruited by her cousin for her own service, she recruited her brother David to serve as a tutor! Their family has now set a record, with three Literacy First tutors who are relatives. Amy says Literacy First is “a really solid support system,” one that she’s “happy and honored to be a part of.”
We are equally happy and honored to have Amy as part of our family, and we couldn’t be more thankful that this rockstar tutor has decided to stay involved in our program. Thank you, Amy, for protecting your literacy legacy!