• Published
  • By Retired Chief Master Sgt. Steve Francis
  • Great Plains Literacy Council
When I retired from civil service at Altus AFB in Dec. 2006, I had a plan or a vague idea of what I wanted to do.

In Feb. 2007 I visited Ida Fay Winters at the Great Plains Literacy Council and volunteered to be a tutor. I taught English as a second language for three years and I will tell anyone that asks - teaching English is difficult.

When a student of mine quit, I decided I needed to take a break. After a week off, Ida Fay called me and asked if I would tutor a couple of students who wanted to become citizens.

I accepted and have been teaching citizenship classes for the past two years.

In Oct. 2011 I was briefing at the First Term Airman Center at Altus AFB for the Air Force Sergeants Association and I asked the students, "how many of you are not U.S. citizens?" Five Airmen raised their hands.

I agreed to help them prepare for their test to become citizens. I met with four of the students at the base library for several classes. Airman 1st Class Martha Fassil could not attend because of shift work.

This is Martha's story. I ran into Martha at the Freedom Center in February of this year and she asked me to help her get ready for her test. Martha is a bright young lady from the country of Eritrea, which is in East Africa. She had a test date of Mar. 7.

We did not have much time to get her ready. We met two-or-three times a week and even worked on Saturdays.

On Wednesday the Mar. 7, I picked her up at 5:30 a.m. at her dormitory and took her to Oklahoma City for her interview.

On the way, I quizzed her on history and civics questions. Applicants for citizenship are asked 10 questions from a list of 100 about history and civics in their interview. They have to answer six questions correctly and also demonstrate the ability to speak, read and write English.

Martha's interview took place at 8:30 a.m. and she passed with flying colors. She was walking on air and I was very proud that my student had passed.

Her next step is to be sworn in as a new naturalized citizen, which will most likely happen in April in Oklahoma City.

Martha's journey has not been easy. When she arrived in New York she was held in custody by the Immigration Service for a week and then granted political asylum in the United States.

When she received her green card, she enlisted in the Air Force.

It was a defining moment for me as her tutor to see the results of her work and my role as volunteer in the process. I sometimes wonder if I am making a difference by doing what I do and Martha's success gives me the justification to continue helping those that will make the effort to study and learn about our country.

Anyone can be a volunteer and make a difference in their community. It's all about giving back to your community. Volunteerism is its own reward.