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Tutors at Tualatin Public Library help patrons learn everything from how to use Facebook to how to navigate physics concepts

Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Kevin Fessler, 19, teaches Vicki Camacho the differences between Chrome an explorer browser programs at the Tualatin Library.
Kevin Fessler helped a man set up his first email account. Donald Swygard helped a high schooler pass an advanced algebra test. Beth Clark helped a non-English speaker shop for groceries.

These Tualatin Public Library volunteer tutors might be teaching varied lessons, but they’re all providing one very important life skill — confidence.

“Knowledge is power. Even the confidence to say ‘OK, I’m going to turn on my iPhone and start working with it.’ I think that’s amazing. Going from ‘I’m so scared’ to now, ‘Yes, I can do it,’” said tech tutor Fessler, 19. “Giving people that confidence is kind of what this program entails.”

Fessler, a Lake Oswego resident, began volunteering at the library at age 15. He started out shelving books, but eventually progressed to tutoring, which he’s been doing for a year. A freshman majoring in software engineering at the Oregon Institute of Technology Wilsonville Campus, Fessler helps his patrons with whatever technological questions they have, whether it’s learning the basics of how to use an iPad or building a website.

“Most important is not only imparting the knowledge, but also getting knowledge back. Each person has a story that they have to tell, and I think it’s kind of important that you learn from each patron,” he said. “I have to learn technology and I teach it back to them, but I also do get a little bit back from every patron. I also learn about them and we have this unique connection as a patron and a teacher.”Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Kevin Fessler, 19, teaches Vicki Camacho the differences between Chrome an explorer browser programs at the Tualatin Library.

On top of his classes and job, Fessler spends two hours tutoring at the library each Friday. And on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, you’ll find homework helper Swygard with his students, assisting everyone from kindergarteners to college students on subjects as wide-ranging as advanced physics to middle school English. A retired teacher, Swygard, 67, had a difficult time retiring, and continuing to help students is just one way he feels he’s still able to give back to the community.

“It would be lovely if we could all be Bill and Melinda Gates and have billions of dollars and go out and save the world,” he said. “But what I’ve learned is I don’t have to save the world — I just need to help one person at a time and try to make a difference. That feels really good.”

Last week, Swygard helped a Tualatin High School student get through an online math test, an accomplishment he said he was just as excited about as the student. The achievement was so substantial that the boy’s mother, a library employee, came over to thank Swygard, saying that he’d completely changed her son’s life.

“The only way to teach is to be invested in what you’re doing,” Swygard said. “I’m always teaching more than the subject matter at hand.”

An English for Speakers of Other Languages tutor since November, Clark works with students one-on-one to help them learn English. The skill levels vary and she works carefully to determine what is most necessary for each person she sees.

“I find it really rewarding to be able to help somebody acclimate to our society,” Clark said. “I get just as much out of them as I’m hoping they get from me.”

And while the tutors are doing a great service for the community, behind them and their students is Volunteer Coordinator Margie Bradley, who helps organize and keeps things running in the volunteer realm.

“I’ve never done anything that made my heart feel this good. I go home from work thinking, ‘Man. What a good day this was,’ because I made a difference in people’s lives during that time,” Bradley said. “The people who volunteer care, and that’s the best part about my job is I spend my day working with people whose hearts are leading them around, and there’s nothing better than that.”

She went on to say that if she and her volunteers didn’t see value in what they were doing, well, they’d probably all just stay home most days. But they recognize the importance of imparting knowledge and providing people with the tools they need to live their best lives.

“What isn’t important about learning?” said Swygard. “The empowerment in a person’s life is learning.”

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