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Service for a Larger Purpose

Jacky Gomez in library.cropped
Written by: Zac Cooper

November’s Nashville Volunteer of the Month is Jacky Gomez, a community leader who deals with Hispanic and immigrant issues. She works as a receptionist at the Hispanic Foundation, a Program Coordinator with YMCA Latino Achievers, and a volunteer with the Tennessee Immigration and Refugee Rights Coalition.

An overarching theme in Jacky’s engagements is her will to support others to become their best selves. Her work at the YMCA, especially, is focused on the volunteer experience and how individuals can serve with their own sense of purpose.

In each of these endeavors, Jacky understands the opportunity she has to better her community. Jacky emigrated from Mexico at age two, and through her life, has engaged with the world through a bicultural lens. Despite growing up in a single parent household and dealing with financial struggles, Jacky was able to earn a scholarship to attend Lipscomb University, one of the first universities to offer scholarships to undocumented individuals.

As an immigrant herself, she has a unique perspective and grounding to drive her community work. She notes the importance of being “conscious and aware of the need of the community” and that she has been fortunate to work in places that do just that.

Compassionate Heart

Monica-professional photoWritten by: Annie Low

Monica Cooley is this month’s honored volunteer because she posses the qualities it takes to be an excellent volunteer. John Wesley once said, “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.” Not only does Monica love and believe in this quote, she also strives to live by it everyday. Monica is kind, trustworthy, and an upstanding citizen in her community, which are all characteristics Monica believes a good volunteer should have.

Monica grew up with parents who valued loving and serving others and she has carried that into her adult life as well. Not only does she like serving, but she also enjoys being able to see the change she has made and to know she was part of making someone else’s life better.

Whether it is serving at the Global Education Center as a dance instructor or on the Board for the Global Education Center or even as a tour guide and host family for the Sri Ganesha Temple, Monica serves others without thinking of how it benefits her.

Teaching New Citizens is Heartwarming for Ben Cook

Ben Cook

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.

Join the Conversation:  What change do you see in yourself as a result of your volunteer activities? What do you like best about volunteering? How does it make you feel? What organizations do you help?

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.