ESL program needs volunteers to meet demand

Florence Phillips and her volunteer administrative assistant Anna Torres pose for a photo Thursday in Carson City.

Florence Phillips and her volunteer administrative assistant Anna Torres pose for a photo Thursday in Carson City.

Every adult has the right to literacy, and with Florence G. Phillips’ ESL In-Home Program of Northern Nevada, that’s possible.

The ESL In-Home Program is an all-volunteer based program in Carson, Washoe, Douglas, Lyon and Churchill counties. It provides a free way for adult immigrants and non-English speakers to learn English, study for citizenship, get a GED, and learn workplace communication and computer literacy skills, including the required books needed. They also help any adult who needs improvement in English language skills.

“We currently have almost 400 students, 200 volunteer tutors, and out of that, we have 292 that are now U.S. citizens through our citizenship classes. We have helped over 6,000 families over the 14 years since we’ve existed,” said Phillips.

What’s unique about the ESL In-Home program is Phillips has solved the problems of those who have time constraints, transportation limitations, disabilities, or don’t have access to necessary childcare: her volunteers come to the student, whenever and wherever. ESL In-Home uses the home of the student, the home of the teacher, and various other locations in each county the program is in, such as libraries. Whatever is most accessible for the student.

After completing the program, students will be able to speak, read and write at a 12th grade level. Currently the average American reads at a seventh or eighth grade level, according to the CIA World Factbook. Many students even stay studying with their tutors through the bonds they form in the program through Skype sessions, and some go onto pursue higher education with the skills they’ve learned.

“Many of our tutors do go to the student’s home,” Phillips said. “They like the idea of meeting the family, and they develop a closer rapport with them, and they exchange cultures and customs. My students used to brown bag a dinner for my husband for me to take home.”

Phillips’ passion for teaching began during her time with the Peace Corps, teaching English and business development. She learned four languages from her time abroad — French, Spanish, Japanese, and Korean. After almost eight years teaching abroad with Peace Corps and another five years spent with AmeriCorps/VISTA, Phillips decided to bring the work she enjoyed so much home with her to the U.S.

Phillips found 22 percent of Carson was non-English speaking. In 2004, she began with teaching an entire family English, split between herself and two other volunteers. She used the same tactics she was taught in the Peace Corps, which doesn’t require the teacher to know the learner’s language. From there, word of mouth spread to build the program into what it is today.

“I told my husband, I want to go back to the Peace Corps. I would do it for the rest of my life if I could, I loved it ... I loved learning new cultures and languages. Well my husband said, ‘I’ll miss you!’ He had gone to Kenya with me, and he didn’t want to go again, we were both age 73. And then the idea came, I could do here, in Carson City, what I did in the foreign countries.”

Right now, the program has a waiting list of 200 non-English speakers awaiting a tutor. The training program is volunteer, has a 45-minute training portion (also free of charge), and then they ask you to donate one or two, two-hour sessions of tutoring a week, at your convenience. Tutors are also able to learn the language of whom they are teaching.

Currently, 92 percent of students are Latinos, but the program has had students from all over the world such as India, China, Pakistan, and 12 refugee families from Syria and the Congo. Many are also American-born men and women who need to learn or improve their English.

ESL In-Home Program of Northern Nevada is a not-for-profit volunteer organization. Although Phillips made it clear she has no plans of retiring until the age of 94, she does want to hire a full-time director to share some of the many responsibilities of the company. To donate, visit

For details, email at, or telephone Florence Phillips at 775-888-2021.


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