News & Events
Spend a moment with our volunteers and learn their stories.
We thank them all for their commitment, caring and expertise!
Understanding the Struggle of English Language Learners
In March of 1999, 16-year-old Ruby Zgabay stepped foot on the campus of Reagan High, terrified and unable to speak any English. Ruby and her parents had just made an arduous journey from Cuba as political refugees seeking asylum in Austin.
Today Ruby, an electrical engineer with IBM and APIE Classroom Coach, looks across the small school desks at the struggling faces of young English language learners, and remembers her youth. “My mother always spoke her mind. Everyone loved her. She had her degree from University of Havana in Cuba and my father was a chemist. Everyone I knew in my family had education – they had all been to college,” she recalls. “My mother studied English Literature in college and could speak English – which is never spoken on the streets in Cuba – she worked in the diplomatic sector for embassies – first Nigeria, then Cuba, then the equivalent of a U.S. Embassy –the Section of Interest they call it, because there is not an official U.S. Embassy in Cuba.” Read more.
Ladonna Eisenbaum – 2nd Grade Reading Classroom Coach, Author, and Advocate for People with Intellectual Disabilities
After almost a decade working with people with dementia and their families, Ladonna Eisenbaum decided to try something on the other end of the service spectrum. “I wanted to go from end-of-life service to something closer to the beginning. That’s when I started volunteering as a Classroom Coach,” she recalls. "If you teach children to read it benefits them not only in school, but through their entire lives." A second-year Reading Coach, Ladonna describes herself as a retired stay-at-home mom. “I would definitely recommend coaching to retirees. Volunteering is an inexpensive outlet for your creativity and a great way to be productive.” Read more
Ricardo Mastroleo – Middle School Math Classroom Coach
Non dvcor, dvco, : I am not led, I lead. - Motto for the city of São Paulo, Brazil
True to the motto of his birthplace, Austin professor and software designer Ricardo Mastroleo leads. Volunteering every week for six years as a Classroom Coach in Austin Partners in Education Math program, Ricardo strives to help students build confidence and understand that they can do the math – if they take the right path. “We can’t supply everything these students need academically in the time we have. We can help. But what really matters is that we help students understand they can succeed,” says Ricardo. Read more.
Joe Perkins - Step-Up Volunteer
Speaking with Joe Perkins about his life, images of the Bat Phone keep coming to mind. One service experience after another all started with “someone called and asked if I could help….” He says he gets it from his mother who found herself in an orthopedic hospital as a young girl. Though financially poor, she was rich in determination and resilience. Adopted by a doctor, she went on to become a nurse at Johns Hopkins. She instilled in her son the heart of service and the importance of giving back. Read more.
Gilbert Cantu: Mentor
Sometimes history makes a full circle. It did at Zavala Elementary. When Mrs. Jeanne Colvin first met Gilbert Cantu, the struggling fourth grader had taken second grade twice and was still challenged by language arts. He was, like all children then, forbidden from speaking Spanish in school. Though his family lived in Austin, they would travel to West Texas each summer to pick cotton. Twice the harvest season ran long and Gilbert could not return to school until December. Mrs. Colvin took a special interest in him, providing him the support kids grow up to remember as pivotal to their future success. That was in the late 1940’s. Read more.
Bruce MacKenzie - College Readiness Volunteer
Bruce MacKenzie is retired, but he’s not sitting on the porch. On November 9th, MacKenzie was at the Irwin Center accepting the College Readiness Volunteer of the Year award from the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce. Later that week, he and his band-mate were playing a gig at the Hill Country Galleria. In between, Bruce went from coaching 8th grade Math at one school to coaching College Readiness at another, and volunteering with other organizations across Austin. Read more.
Andrew Holle and IBM – Middle School Math Classroom Coaching
Andrew Holle has realistic expectations about his work in Burnet Middle School as a volunteer Classroom Coach. He doesn’t expect to see a miraculous turn around, or arrive to find the class tearfully singing a song in his honor as movies and TV shows may predict. His world is not Hollywood, it is Austin.
Holle is one of 13 IBM employees (now more than 50 since this story first published) volunteering as Classroom Coaches with Austin Partners in Education this year. He cautions would-be volunteers to not expect to see profound change overnight. But there were a series of smaller, quiet victories that kept him going to weekly sessions, signing up for another year, and recruiting a dozen coworkers to join him. Read more.
Alejandro Dominguez – Middle School Reading Classroom Coach
Many who volunteer in the classroom do so thanks to influential teachers in their youth. For Alejandro Dominguez, the memories of elementary school aren’t as glowing. His experiences with school in the U.S. began with his family’s arrival here from Mexico City in 1984. “In those days if they wanted to drag you out by the ear, they did,” he recalled. “Times have changed.” He remembers being enormously frustrated by the fluency gap as he continued to learn English, but not as quickly as his increasingly impatient teacher demanded. “I didn’t want to be in ESL. I just wanted to back in the other classroom with all the other kids,” he says. “I can relate to any kid who is an immigrant and English is his or her second language.” Read more.
Sherry Washington - 2nd Grade Reading Classroom Coach
Some things about Sherry Washington are obvious. She smiles easily, and it lights up the room. She’s soft spoken and friendly. She’s smart and self confident, yet humble. You can’t miss these things when you meet her. What may not be as obvious is her quiet determination to defy odds. As an African American woman growing up in East Austin in the 1960’s and 70’s, Washington not only graduated high school, she went on to graduate college at a time when a lot of women didn’t. Coming into the room at just barely five feet tall, it might surprise people to know she played basketball in high school and college, because she wanted to. She became a systems analyst and computer programmer at a time when women of any color were a rarity in the sector. Read more.