The Parkland College Blog

"I think my niche is helping people who have been failed by our education and justice systems," Cathy Salika once wrote.

And who is Cathy Salika? She's only the inspirational Project READ literacy tutor after whom we've modeled our new Project READ Outstanding Service Award—and, naturally, the award's inaugural recipient! We will honor this Urbana resident with our award Saturday, Oct. 6 from 3 to 5 p.m. in the Parkland College Student Union, an event culminating our celebration of National Tutoring Week, and you're welcome to join us there.

The Project READ Outstanding Service Award honors an exceptional Project READ tutor whose uncommon dedication makes our community a better place, inspiring the following elements of community service:

1) striving to increase the reach of high-quality, reliable, volunteer tutoring services to the most marginalized and vulnerable adults in our community

2) demonstrating commitment, dedication, and passion for helping adults improve their abilities in reading, writing, math, or English so that they can increase their civic engagement, workforce potential, and quality of life.

We gratefully fashion this recognition after the outstanding service of Cathy, who started with Project READ in 2012. And here's why:

  • When Project READ funding was renewed after a two-year hiatus, Cathy was among the first to respond to our call for new tutors. But what we learned was that, despite the budget impasse and the resulting lack of infrastructural support, Cathy never stopped working with her Project READ learner. "No one told us to stop, and we didn't!" she said.
  • When we needed tutors who could volunteer to teach math to female inmates at the satellite jail, Cathy raised her hand, went through the security protocol, and began assisting a learner in the correctional center. She went on to tutor several inmates, men, and women, at the downtown jail and the satellite jail over the course of the grant year. In fact, she became so adept and passionate about serving learners in the correctional centers, she facilitated a special training session for Project READ tutors to learn how to volunteer in the jails, addressing what to expect of the institution and how to best help incarcerated learners develop and progress toward their goals.
  • When we initiated our Drop-in Tutoring program in February of this year, Cathy began tutoring at all of our daytime sites, expanding her service from Adult Basic Education (math and literacy) to include English for speakers of other languages. She signed up to help us run an ESL lab in Rantoul, and when that site finished its term, she continued to ask for more learners to work with. Cathy tutored more than 150 hours between February and July 2018! "The drop-in sites have been good for me as a tutor," Cathy said. "It's easier for me to ask advice of the staff."
  • Cathy facilities learning in all areas with ease, confidence, innovation, reliability—and flexibility! Sometimes we get flooded with unexpected learners at a drop-in site, and when we ask to seat someone with Cathy, she always says, "We'll make it work." We've seen her tutor math to a learner on her left who is preparing for the GED and tutor an ESL learner on her right who recognized her from a previous session and asked to continue to work with her.

Cathy Salika is truly exceptional. The staff at Project READ is fond of saying that if we had 20 Cathy Salikas, we could change the world. Her attitude and philosophy about tutoring explain why we feel this way:

"I love to watch people warm up to a subject as they master it," Cathy said. "The learners come to us with basic needs in English, reading or math. They come asking for help, which isn't always an easy thing to do, and I respect them for that. Many of them have been held back by poverty, family problems, or learning differences. Sometimes they gain better job opportunities, more independence, or more self-confidence from their efforts to learn with us. Their joy in meeting their goals and their pride of accomplishment are an inspiration to me."

Cathy's passion for uplifting our community through learner-centered, personalized Adult Education sets the bar high, and we are grateful for her tremendous contributions. If you'd also like to be an adult tutor for math, reading, or English, or need tutoring services yourself or someone you know, we invite you to join us at Project READ. Please contact our office by email at ProjectREAD@parkland.edu or by calling 217/353-2662.

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