Nearly ten years ago Ben Cook started teaching citizenship classes to immigrants who wanted to become American citizens. He has taught in three different programs, including the Woodbine Community Center and Catholic Charities. Currently he is a Citizenship and Civics instructor at Casa de la Cultura Latino America at Global Crossings Mall in Antioch, formerly the Hickory Hollow Mall.
During that time Ben has helped nearly 100 people become US citizens. Most of his students are from Latin American countries, with a few others from Somalia, Egypt and Lithuania. “To see someone get their citizenship is like having your birthday every day,” Ben says. “It’s very heartwarming.”
“Teaching Citizenship and Civics in English to students whose first language is not English has taught me humility,” Ben says. “I teach only in English, and I teach at their pace.”
While much of the civics curriculum is provided in a book and on a CD with the answers, Ben tests the students by asking questions in eight different ways so they won’t be thrown by how the question is stated on the written citizenship exam or in the interview. He also uses photographs of Mayors from all the surrounding counties, the President, Representatives, Senators, Governor and more. “Citizenship can’t be memorized, it must be learned,” he says. Many native-born Americans would have difficulty passing the citizenship test, but as a result of his efforts more than 90 percent of Ben’s new American students have passed it.
In addition to teaching the civics details required to pass the citizenship test Ben helps his students fill out forms to complete the citizenship application process and sometimes refers them to an attorney for additional assistance. “The students identify with me as a minority, too, so we have a common bond.”
Prior to volunteering Ben was a telecommunications technician and troubleshooter. But, he says, “My ego and arrogance got in my way. Since I had been a teacher’s aid in a GED class I found I liked teaching. So it was easy to say ‘yes’ when I was first asked to help Mayra, a fellow volunteer at the Woodbine Community Center, become a citizen.” Mayra is currently the director at Casa de la Cultura Latino America.
The Citizenship and Civics class is one of several programs at Casa de la Cultura Latino America promoted with help from the Tennessee Literacy Coalition. Casa de la Cultura’s mission is to promote, rescue and preserve the identity and culture of Latin American countries by serving underserved, excluded and forgotten communities in Middle Tennessee, offering educational, artistic and cultural programs.
Doing Good is proud to recognize Ben Cook as Nashville’s Volunteer of the Month for October 2014.
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Blog Written by Karen E. Williams, a volunteer with Doing Good, an organization dedicated to promoting volunteerism. The website is DoingGood.tv. Nashville’s Volunteer of the Month is a free program celebrating those who make a difference and inspiring others to volunteer by sharing stories of local volunteers through media partners.