Sister Charles Van Hoy, an 82-year old Sister of Providence of St. Mary-of-the-Woods, has spent the past six years of her “retirement” helping to break boundaries and create hope through her full-time volunteer position at Educational/Family Services in West Terre Haute. Located off U.S. 150 near the north entrance to The Woods, Educational/Family Services provides free tutoring for children and free basic education and GED preparation for adults.
“I think that one of the best things you can do for people is to educate them. It gives them another chance. I can think of so many things that I couldn’t do the first time around,” Van Hoy said of her work at EFS.
In recognition of the dedication, caring and skill that Van Hoy brings to her work, she was recently awarded the Guerin Outreach Ministries Leadership and Advocacy Award for 2012. The award is given annually to an individual within the three Sisters of Providence-sponsored ministries which make up Guerin Outreach Ministries.
Van Hoy holds her work close to her heart. “I think my favorite part is when people make connections. It’s when the lights go on, when there is success, when they’ve gotten something after they’ve worked hard for it,” she said.
Van Hoy spent 25 years as an elementary and middle school teacher. She then taught nine years in an adult literacy program.
“The most rewarding work I’ve ever done is working in adult literacy. You see such a change in people. It is so wonderful,” she said.
It was in part that experience that inspired Van Hoy to dedicate her retirement years to Educational/Family Services, where her work improves the lives of both illiterate and under-educated adults while also giving children an early boost so that they don’t have to experience such struggles later in life.
Penny Sullivan, the director of Educational/Family Services who nominated Van Hoy for the award, describes her as “gentle, loving, caring, soft-spoken, helpful, insightful, nurturing and enthusiastic.”
“She’s a terrific person and a great listener. I appreciate how hard she works. I love her and all of her wisdom,” Sullivan said.
“Whatever comes up is what I do. If I can do it, I do it,” Van Hoy says of her days at EFS. “I try to take an interest in most of what’s going on.”
Jobs she performs can include anything from gardening and fixing up the outside of the building, to tutoring children or adults, to cleaning out the garage, to preparing educational packets for other volunteer tutors, to keeping the stations organized for the next tutoring sessions, to answering the telephone.
Van Hoy’s co-workers appreciate her hard work, her initiative, her thirst for knowledge, and that no task is too menial for her.
Van Hoy enjoys the warm and caring atmosphere at Educational/Family Services. She says that when people come to work or to volunteer or to be tutored that they feel at ease; they feel at home. “Here we know people on a first-name basis. And by the time somebody leaves, we know their grandmas and sometimes even their dogs,” she said. “This is a safety net for some people: it’s another chance. It’s a good place to come. You’re safe here, safe in that it’s one-on-one. You’re safe to be yourself, to say what you know and what you don’t know.
“And then we’re free, and for some people [if this weren’t the case] they couldn’t come,” she said.
Van Hoy has many success stories from the work done at Educational/Family Services that she enjoys sharing: the triumph of a woman who was tutored for years and was finally able to ride a bus to visit her sister in Chicago because now she could read the signs well enough to get around; the joy one man showed every time he was able to read a new book for the first time.
The stories go on, as does the tutoring, day in and day out. “We’re about education; we’re about fulfilling dreams,” she said. “When you support something like this, you share in the victories, and you share in the things the students achieve.”
To learn more about Guerin Outreach Ministries and Educational/Family Services, visit www.GuerinOutreachMinistries.org or call 812-535-4206.