Skip to main content

Meet Lili and Gordon: Maintaining Connection During COVID-19

Meet Lili and Gordon: Maintaining Connection During COVID-19

By Liz Fitzpatrick

We sat down (virtually!) with Lili Vera and Gordon Williams from Portage County Literacy Council for a chat about how learning and tutoring has changed their lives and how they persevere during the pandemic.

Lili Vera’s love for her family and desire to be involved in the community brought her to the doors of Portage County Literacy Council two years ago: 

“I wasn’t able to help [my kids] with their homework. . . to understand a topic or to talk about a topic from school.  Or when we had meetings before I had to use an interpreter all the time.  And [my sons] didn’t feel comfortable talking . . . with another person in front of the doctor.”

At the same time, Gordon Williams, her tutor, was looking for community connection.  After he moved back to the states, he worked remotely, engaging with his co-workers primarily in email, online webinars, and Zoom.  “I felt disconnected from the community,” said Gordon, “that was something missing.”  His wife Sara is an ESL teacher and very involved with Portage County Literacy Council.  Finally, he decided to tutor.

For a year and a half, Lili and Gordon have worked together.

Lili said that learning English “changed my life totally – forever . . . I’m really happy to be part of this program.   And Gordon has made an impact in my life and also with my kids.  I’m the person who is telling everyone that I know who needs to learn English.  You should do this. . . I know that it is working. It’s helping me [and] getting me there . . . to my goals.”

Lili wasn’t the only one who changed.  Gordon reflected, “I think the biggest challenge for me . . .was trying to assess . . .Lili’s needs.  What should I focus on?  But I think I’ve gotten better at listening to Lili.”

In March 2020, the COVID pandemic shutdown in person meetings.  

Lili refused to quit.  Lili said, “It was really important to me to continue.  Then I hear of all the people that ... quit because of the COVID-19, and it wasn’t my plan.  Somehow I have to figure it out how.”

Gordon mentioned trying out Zoom, and she agreed.  “We didn’t skip a beat because . . . she didn’t want to skip lessons.  She’s highly motivated,” Gordon stated proudly.

Even determined, they still struggled with the change.  Lili used her phone and Gordon couldn’t easily share a word document with her during their lessons.  Sometimes, she used her son’s laptop and a cellphone or two cellphones at the same time.

“So that was a little rocky, but between emails and Zoom and texts, we stay well-connected,” said Gordon.

Lili knew the rewards of persisting in her education.  “I know people think sometimes that it’s hard learning a language, [but] if I can do it anyone can do it really.  Once you get in tune, things come easy.  Also, not skipping that class, even if you don’t want to, even if you want to give up.  Don’t do that because you will see your progress very soon,” said Lili joyously.

Lili and Gordon have developed a special friendship.  “It’s bigger than just me and Lili.  It’s grown to be more than that - the whole family,” said Gordon as he mentioned snorkeling with Lili’s oldest son and attending birthday parties.

“I’m very blessed that Gordon is my tutor because he commits with me,” said Lili. “He wants to see me improving every time.  And he puts [in] all the efforts.  And when a tutor [does] that it’s like ‘I need to do that too’.”

Gordon encouraged other tutors to think about using Zoom now. “I think Zoom is easy to learn.  So making the leap is not as hairy and scary as some people may think.”  Nevertheless, Gordon looked forward to when they can meet back at the library again: “But in the meantime we’re grateful to have tools that allow us to continue.”

Give to Wisconsin Literacy to strengthen the life-changing work of literacy.