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Irene Sinclair


Hero Story

Irene Sinclair has been a volunteer tutor with the Oakland Literacy Council (OLC) since 2014. During that time, she has had an extraordinary impact on English language learners, fellow tutors, our organization, and immigrant communities we serve.

Irene spent her professional life as an adult educator in Detroit Public Schools. During her long tenure with the school district, she oversaw several adult education learning centers, trained adult education teachers, wrote curriculum, and taught both foreign-born and native-born adults with low literacy levels. In 2009 she was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the State of Michigan Office of Adult Education. Since her retirement, she has generously shared her deep knowledge of and dedication to adult literacy with our community as an Oakland Literacy Council volunteer.

As a one-on-one tutor with OLC, Irene has tutored four students, three of whom graduated from our program. She dedicated her time to giving her students the English skills to confidently navigate life in the United States and pursue employment, education, and individual and family goals.

Irene played an extra special role in the life of her last student, Elena, an immigrant from Russia. Elena was pregnant with her first child during the time they worked together. Elena wanted to know what to expect in the months leading up to and during the birth of her son. Irene focused their lessons on writing, listening, and pronunciation around the topic of pregnancy and labor and delivery. They learned vocabulary to prepare for the delivery and together read about the stages of labor and discussed breathing techniques and breastfeeding. Irene, who has three children, shared her personal experiences with pregnancy and as a young mom.

Irene and Elena also studied workplace vocabulary for when Elena eventually resumed her career in computer science. (She is now an applications developer for United Wholesale Mortgage). Irene also encouraged Elena to join her church choir. In 2019, Irene and Elena helped our organization raise funds by telling their story at our annual fundraising dinner.

Irene has served as an instructor and group leader with OLC, often collaborating with community partners to prepare adult learners for employment. Prior to the pandemic, Irene was co-facilitating English language learning sessions at a Romanian Church in Royal Oak.

However, Irene's most profound impact as an OLC tutor goes well beyond meeting the needs of individual adult learners. She has volunteered countless hours as a consultant to staff and mentor to fellow tutors.

Over the years, Irene has developed and delivered supplemental professional development workshops for our volunteers on topics including lesson planning, listening, and conversational skills. In 2021, Irene served as an adviser to staff during an overhaul of OLC's tutor training program to provide more specialized training for both ESL and adult basic education tutors and integrate lessons on cultural competence. She provided guidance not only on the content that our volunteer tutors should learn, but also on effective teaching strategies our facilitators could use when presenting that content.

Irene serves as an informal mentor and coach to tutors struggling with their adult learners, drawing upon her 40 years of teaching experience to offer encouragement as well as practical tips. Irene never hesitates to take a phone call or respond to a plea for help from the staff or our volunteers.

In recent months, Oakland Literacy Council is serving more immigrants from Syria and Afghanistan, who often have little or no English skills at all. In fact, one Afghan woman cannot read or write in her own language either. We have tapped our most experienced tutors to work with these students; Irene is helping these tutors develop lesson plans and learning activities.

In her 8 years as an OLC volunteer, Irene has made a positive difference in the lives of hundreds of tutors and adult learners – perhaps even more. Her impact will continue to be felt well into the future.

In Irene's own words: “Literacy gives people opportunities to live fuller lives. That’s my strongest reason for being committed to adult learning.”

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