by Sandy Chase
For more than five years, volunteer Matt Suddes continues to create a pleasurable learning experience for Project Light students who are fortunate to study basic English skills in his Beginner Level 1 and 2 classes. He strives to ensure that attendees will succeed in their community, even teaching their children the importance of education.
Project Light Board President Cheryl Evans says, “Matt is a dedicated volunteer teacher. He embraces the mission and vision of the nonprofit organization and implements them in his classroom. We couldn’t be prouder to have Matt on our team!”
As Cheryl points out, Matt goes that extra mile, just as he does when cycling, one of his favorite pastimes besides reading:
“Matt is that go-to guy. He reaches out to other teachers and helps when needed. Most days he arrives early and will stay late to plan and prepare for the next lessons. Matt also helps with basic upkeep of the facility. When he sees something that needs to be done, he does it. That’s all wonderful, but I really appreciate his positive outlook and approach to all that he does at Project Light.”
According to Matt, PL continues to expand its resources offered to immigrants under the
leadership of Executive Director Elena Farkas: offering language, computer, and citizenship classes. Becoming part of that change, Matt is even more passionate about supporting his students.
Elena’s testimonial says it all: “In many cases, Matt is my back; I can always depend on him. He is a modest man—with a curious mind and a big heart. I consider him part of my family. We can discuss things outside school.”
Wanting to improve, Matt thrives on self-learning. Elena says, “Last year, he took time to study piano. He enjoys listening to classical music. Matt also completed the TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) course to improve and enhance his instructional techniques. He’s a great role model for our students.”
Agreeing with others, Marva Duley, a PL fellow volunteer teacher, captures how Matt motivates others, students and teachers alike.
“Before volunteering at Project Light of Manatee, I visited Matt’s class to see whether I wanted to teach at the school. An absolute joy, he introduced me to his students and asked me questions about myself. I answered in Spanish and English, exciting the adults that I was able to speak their language.”
That’s when Marva knew that she wanted to volunteer at PL: “Matt is kind and patient towards his students, having complete control while presenting the lessons. He makes learning pleasurable. During that day, the students had fun and asked questions. What especially impressed me was that they sought him out just to chat.”
Matt attributes his 35 years as a Publix employee, where he learned how to interact with all people, saying that he uses that skill to mentor PL students. Advocating the Publix mantra, he ensures that learning in his classroom is “a pleasure.”
And Project Light is grateful for him going that extra mile—for students, board members,
teachers, and himself.
● How did you learn about Project Light?
I volunteer at Saint Joseph's Catholic Church with the St. Vincent de Paul Society, whose
mission is to assist those who are suffering. At the society, I learned that in Manatee County, there was a nonprofit that helped address challenges, especially for those who needed to learn English to improve their life and that of their family.
I screen calls and schedule appointments for people who meet society’s criteria. If the client doesn't meet our eligibility requirements, I refer them to another agency if possible. We have meetings twice a month and try to refocus on our mission.
● What about Project Light inspired/inspires you to volunteer?
I wanted to help people learn English, and that is what continues to motivate me today. PL’s mission meshes with mine: to teach adults English language skills that are necessary to function at home, on the job, and in the community.
● How has PL changed during your five years?
Elena has instituted new resources, including apps that students can use on their phones to broaden what they learn in class.
She has also instituted standardized tests (CASAS) to identify each student’s needs and their progression/completion of the ESOL (English As a Second Language) program approved by the FDOE (Florida Department of Education) and NRS (National Reporting System for Adult Education) for federally-funded adult education programs.
● What have you learned from your students?
I have learned about struggling to succeed while learning a new language. I’ve also learned about different cultures.
● What do Beginner Levels 1 and 2 look like?
Levels 1 and 2 deal with basic vocabulary, paragraph composition, and basic verb tenses.
● What other levels have you coached?
During my five years, I have taught all four levels of the Ventures textbook series, which focuses on the immigrant learner and life skills. This series provides teaching materials, workbooks, and follow-up worksheets. There’s also a Teacher’s Toolkit, which includes role-playing, conversation cards, and partner dictation.
● What are your challenges?
The main challenge is keeping students focused while trying to have fun and learn. I
admire—and have learned from—other volunteers. And I’m rewarded because I come away with a positive feeling that I’m supporting others in their transition to life in our great country.
● What would you like to tell others who are considering volunteering?
I would tell prospective volunteers that working at Project Light is very rewarding because you’re nurturing others so they can adapt to living here.