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Marva Duley: Reversing the Spotlight

Updated: May 7

by Sandy Chase

A Project Light volunteer, Marva Duley repeatedly shines the spotlight on other volunteers. Her testimonials highlight how colleagues help boost the nonprofit’s mission of supporting the advancement of adult learners through English proficiency, literacy, citizenship, and employment skills.

Avoiding the limelight exemplifies Marva’s modesty. But Executive Director Elena Farkas,

fellow teachers and students have turned the light on Marva, capturing her essence:

“A dedicated English language teacher at our school, Marva is well-suited to our philosophy and environment. Organized and sociable, she brings a delightful presence to our community.”

Elena praises Marva’s insights about her students:

“Marva, who’s bilingual, understands our students’ determination to achieve English proficiency, essential for work. In her teaching, she uses her knowledge of Spanish, recognizing the challenges immigrants face in learning a new language or being on the job without adequate English skills.”

Many attest that Marva is a role model who uses humor and persuasion to encourage her adult learners to overcome difficulties and excel in class and succeed in this country.

Level 1 and 2 teacher Matt Suddes had been impressed by Marva’s great personality and sense of humor when she toured the school. “What’s more important, students were excited when she answered my questions in both English and Spanish.”

Partnering with Marva at times, Matt says, “She inspires her students with her enthusiasm and caring.”

Echoing other clients, two students are grateful for Marva’s teaching. Nestor Pena says, “English should be written how it sounds.” Agreeing with him, Marva points out that that’s true of other languages as well, including Spanish.

Wisiline Cherry says, “I need English to speak with my child because he was born in the USA. And Marva helps us.”

Elena also alludes to Marva’s creativity and generosity. “After I commented about her well-crafted hairbands and earrings, Marva humbly revealed that those and other items make up her jewelry line. She kindly donated several sets of jewelry for our annual winter fundraiser, Bubbles, Beats, and Bites"

Elena expresses Project Light’s gratitude: “Marva's understanding of two languages and her business experience make her an asset to teachers, students, and staff, particularly our newcomers.”

  • How did you learn about Project Light?

I discovered Project Light by researching schools that offer ESL (English as a Second Language)classes. My employer asked me to Google such schools, and after speaking with Project Light’s Executive Director Elena Farkas, she invited me to visit two classes: one on Tuesday and the other on Thursday.

I was impressed with how the school helps support adult learners through literacy, Project Light also prepares attendees for citizenship and employment skills. I also chose PL because of its proximity to the employee’s home.

  •  What about Project Light inspired you to volunteer?

I have a desire to make a positive effect on people by helping them get basic English language skills so they can communicate with others. I believe that volunteering is a meaningful way to give back and contribute to the well-being of others. It brings me joy to support causes that I feel will influence others’ lives.

  • What keeps you inspired to continue at Project, given your career? Have you

considered teaching other levels at PL?

As a Panamanian immigrant, I understand the importance of assisting other immigrants in

learning the language used for business in the USA and helping them teach their children. After observing the PL structure, I want to follow the lesson plans, while continuing to help Elena fulfill our mission.


  • Describe the Beginner English class(es) you teach. Have you taught elsewhere?

The beginner class I teach is Venture 101, which focuses on introducing basic vocabulary,

grammar concepts, and language skills to students who may understand little or no English. The class covers the alphabet, greetings, numbers, and simple sentence structures. Activities may include writing, speaking, and showing ways to gain confidence in using the English language.

  • What materials are most helpful for you/your students?

Materials that are helpful are the textbooks, practice problems, and students’ phones.

Additionally using flash cards and the Kidz A-Z app are also great for learning.

  • How are phones helpful in teaching your adults? Tell me more about the Kidz A-Z app.

Many adult learners of English rely on translation in their native language to understand difficult words and concepts. Personally, I use several apps such as Elevate ( ,

Scholar (, and WordWeb ( as learning tools.

For students, Kids A-Z can be helpful, especially for adults receiving instruction only two days a week. Such students need more immersion in the language, and this app can assist them in achieving that.

  • How has your career helped you at Project Light? What skills do you apply at Project Light?

I used to work for a multinational corporation, monitoring American companies operating in Mexico and other Latin American countries. I apply the same skills for successful management, including organization, problem-solving, and people skills, with both students and fellow teachers.

After retiring for the first time, I returned to Mexico and decided to teach Business English at Interlingua because teaching is something expats (individuals living and/or working in a country other than their country of citizenship, often temporarily and for work-related reasons) are permitted to do in Mexico. Many Mexican nationals work for American and Canadian companies and need to travel to the USA. Therefore, they require proficiency in both English and French.

  • What have your students taught you?

My students give me feedback about certain aspects of my teaching method that they may not fully understand. This constructive criticism helps me improve their language learning experience. Additionally, as an expat from Panama, I have found that my students provide me with valuable cultural insights. Learning about their culture and traditions has been a wonderful experience for both me and my students.

  • What are your challenges? Rewards?

Some students don't have language-learning support at home, making it difficult for both the student and me to prevent them from giving up. However, it is rewarding when students are able to create simple sentences on their own.

  • What suggestions do you have so students don’t give up because they’re disillusioned?

I always advise my students to make friends with their classmates so they have someone to study with. But if they can't do that, I suggest they watch English movies and listen to musical lyrics as it helps improve their language skills.

Whenever I come across my current or past students, I make sure to acknowledge their hard work and dedication by rewarding and praising them. Rewards at the beginning of the term might consist of magnets that have simple, encouraging phrases like I Can Do It! and Dream Big. In the middle of the term, I give books to each adult learner. At the end of the class, I say goodbye with high fives or give them the dap (friendly gesture of greeting), reminding my “graduates” to continue doing their homework.

  • What are your pastimes?

I have been spending my free time this year working with the Manatee County voting system to fulfill my civic duty. When not doing that, I enjoy reading and listening to podcasts while driving. Additionally, I have a small upcycled jewelry line that I promote on Instagram. I enjoy using social media as a means to connect with others.


  • What would you like to tell others who are considering volunteering?

Volunteering gives you the opportunity to be effective in the world and be a part of positive change. Your efforts, no matter how small they may seem, can have a significant effect on the lives of others and contribute to building a better society.


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