Growing up, Florence Phillips experienced first-hand the burden of being a child of immigrants who didn’t speak English. Helping her parents interact with the outside world fell on her shoulders. “I did all the translations for them,” Phillips said. “I saw how they struggled being new to a country and not knowing the language.”
For most of her life, Phillips worked various desk jobs. Then, in her late-50s, she enlisted in the Peace Corps. She served three tours—in Kenya, Guatemala and Jamaica—working on community-building projects and teaching English. After returning to the US in 1999, at age 69, Phillips realized there were countless people in her own backyard in need of her support.
She became an AmeriCorps volunteer and moved around the country, eventually settling in Nevada, where immigrants make up roughly one in five of the state’s population. Phillips met many adult immigrants who were struggling to learn English. To address the need, she started the ESL In-Home Program of Northern Nevada, a nonprofit that provides free ESL (English as a Second Language), citizenship, GED and computer classes.
Today, at 87 years old—when most people are deep in retirement—Phillips shows no signs of winding down.
CNN’s Laura Klairmont asked Phillips, “How has your work affected the lives of your students?”
Phililips’ response: I have students that were promoted to be supervisor. I get students who call me and say, “I was able to talk with the teacher about my child.” And I’m being told by the students that they went to the market and the clerk understood them. Those are the rewards I get as they progress. …I see the pride when they say, ‘I am an American.’”