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CFN & International Volunteer Day 2020: Pam Brierley

In 2015 when the first Syrian refugees landed in Canada, Pam Brierley began working with newcomers. Soon thereafter, she made the decision to transition her 30-year career in education to teaching ESL. Living in Edmonton, she began volunteering as a LINC program teaching assistant at the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers

Fast forward to the summer of 2019. She and her husband had recently relocated to Calgary and with a desire to fill her time with something meaningful while simultaneously looking for employment, she sought out the Centre for Newcomers.

With a desire to pursue ESL as a new career, she hoped that there would be opportunities to volunteer teaching English.

In September 2019, Pam began teaching an intermediate class of learners in the Volunteer-Led ESL (VESL) program. She was also concurrently enrolled in the ACE TESOL program at Bow Valley College. This gave her an immediate opportunity to utilize what she was learning in her teacher training program by applying it to students in her classroom. The freedom to try out different teaching ideas while working within the established framework of the VESL program allowed her to grow, develop and hone her skills in her newfound career path. Over time she was also able to take on additional classes at different levels.

Aside from the direct teaching, Pam’s organizational, communication and leadership skills were soon noticed and she became the coordinator of volunteers within the VESL program. Having a deep repertoire of skills and experience, Pam was asked to facilitate orientation and training for new VESL volunteers where she was able to share her enthusiasm and her wealth of creative ideas with new volunteers entering the VESL program. She also facilitated a well-received session on “Networking for Introverts”.

Pam has become an invaluable member of our VESL program. Her desire and willingness to share ideas, tips and strategies has made her a leader within the program. She has consistently come up with different ideas, tools and strategies that have simplified the administrative logistics within the VESL program. Her dedication, flexibility and enthusiasm have all been greatly appreciated as our VESL program has had to pivot to a virtual platform due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Students adore Pam, her clear teaching style and her friendly demeanour, as well as her willingness to go above and beyond to help them meet their specific learning goals. When the world was put on pause due to covid, Pam spent countless hours connecting with students individually not just to assist them with their English language learning, but also to ensure that they were doing okay during this unprecedented time in our history. This investment of her time comes from a heart rooted in compassion and a genuine desire to share, learn from and develop genuine connections with her students. She created a private FB group to help her students stay connected with one another as they were experiencing the loss of the social connections when the class met in-person, as well as a basic website where she posted supplementary worksheets and activities so that students could gain additional practise.

Currently holding down multiple jobs, Pam continues to volunteer with the VESL program. Many of her initial learners have transitioned into other programs or have found employment in their journey in Canada, but the relationships that were cultivated within the VESL program have blossomed into friendships that extend beyond the teacher-learner relationship.

CFN sends our heartfelt thanks our to Pam. We greatly value your contributions to the VESL Team and to our students, and look forward to a long-lasting relationship with you on our Volunteer Team!


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