On Thursday, May 30, 2013, Literacy Volunteers held a reception in recognition of Literacy Volunteer's president Dr. John Hamm.

Dr. Hamm was recognized for his 15 years of volunteer service. A proclamation declaring May 30, 2013 Dr. John Hamm Day was presented by City Councilman Mr. Johnny Terrell.

You can view a PDF copy of the presentation prepared in his honor for the event. (25.5 MB)

You can also read the full text of the press release for the reception below:

A longtime volunteer for literacy will be honored with a reception at 4:30 p.m., Thursday, May 30, at Moultrie Technical College’s Tifton Conference Center. Dr. John Hamm, retired USDA scientist, has been volunteering with Literacy Volunteers of Tifton-Tift County for 15 years, and the City of Tifton has declared May 30 Dr. Hamm Day.

“Dr. Hamm has been such an important part of LV’s success,” Dr. Charles Posey, LV’s Executive Director, said. “He has personally helped more than a hundred newcomers to our country improve their English, and dozens of adult students pass their GED tests.”

“Dr. Hamm is one of the few,” Liz Carson Keith, another LV volunteer explained. “It doesn’t occur to him to decline whenever someone needs his help. It’s not unusual for someone to volunteer a couple of hours to help an organization, but Dr. Hamm logs morning hours daily, and then returns in the afternoon if someone cannot make a morning session. After a full day, he helps teach an English class at Our Divine Savior (ODS) Catholic Church two nights a week. For a while, he even drove to a migrant camp for two more nights to assist in a class that LV was operating.”

Dr. Hamm is completing a two-year term as president of LV, and the organization felt this is an appropriate time to recognize him.

The 76-year-old scientist arrived in Tifton in 1962 where he worked for the United States Department of Agriculture as an entomologist. He began volunteering with LV in 1998 when LV started an English class at ODS. “I became interested in teaching ESL after a friend told me about volunteering in a literacy program and how rewarding it was. Then, in 1998, I spent time in Mexico and experienced what it was like not to speak the language of a country. When I returned from Mexico, I volunteered to teach an English class at the church.”

Dr. Hamm’s first class was not a sprinkling, but a full baptism. “It was big. I had 20 or more students,” he recalled. During the four years he volunteered at the church, he saw many students improve their English enough to take the GED test.  By this time, MTC was teaching English language classes, so the classes at the church weren’t necessary. “I wanted to continue where there was a need. I noticed that the two areas that seemed to give GED students the most trouble were math and writing. I decided to tutor math because I was better at math than writing,” he commented.

Dr. Hamm worked with three or four students annually who needed special help in math and were able to complete their GED diplomas. “I expect there are close to 50 students who went through my tutoring and received their diplomas,” he said. Some of his students were not GED test candidates, but still improved their skills enough so they could be more successful in the job market. “Some needed a little help, and some needed a lot,” he said.

During the years, he has made fast friends with students and their families. At ODS, I had a lot of help from Cruz Olalde whose wife was in the class,” he said. “Cruz would translate when I couldn’t explain a concept well enough in English.” Since then, Mr. Olalde has helped to organize Soccer for Literacy, a summer fundraiser for LV. His son was the teacher at the migrant camp where Dr. Hamm has volunteered.

“I am inspired by the commitment of some of the students,” Dr. Hamm said. At the migrant camp, the group met in a screened-in kitchen designed for warm weather use. But the class continued during the winter months.  Even with plastic covering the screen, it was a cold classroom.  “The group came in wearing flip flops and shorts,” he said. “They really wanted to learn English.”

Dr. Hamm said that sometimes it is discouraging when students don’t grasp concepts, but he keeps going. “When they make a break-through, it is encouraging.”

He pointed out that working with young people is an activity that keeps him young. “LV is a blessing,” he said. “Doing this work is an opportunity to give back to the community. It raises the level of skills in a community and creates a better environment. We need more of this sort of thing to combat the violence in our neighborhoods. People turn to violence when they have no hope.”

“Dr. Hamm’s work gives people the hope they need,” Dr. Posey commented.  “He inspires us all.”

The public is invited to honor Dr. Hamm at the reception. “We especially would like former students to let him know how he has impacted their lives,” Dr. Posey added.