Superlatives aside, the fact Gonzalo has dedicated more than six years and 1,500 volunteer hours toward helping Marysville’s Job Training and Education Center speaks volumes to the impact he’s made in the community he helps serve.
And Marysville instructor Elizabeth Laryea had some glowing remarks about Gonzalo, too.
“He always has a really positive attitude,” said Laryea, who teaches English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes and frequently has Gonzalo as an aide. “He always welcomes the students and makes everyone feel comfortable, and he also is willing to do any task, big or small.”
Originally from Mexico, Gonzalo came to Washington after living in California for seven years. He started taking classes at Goodwill in 2011 in order to develop skills that would help him land a job.
Gonzalo began volunteering after being asked by Marysville JTE Center Manager Tania Siler. He started helping in ESOL Basic and ESOL Level 1 and 2 classes, while he continued honing his own English-speaking skills by taking more advanced classes. Every Monday through Thursday Gonzalo volunteers for roughly three hours.
Besides working as an aide, he also acts as a translator and interpreter for Spanish-speaking individuals who come to Goodwill but haven’t yet developed English-speaking skills.
“I know he does a lot in the office, too,” Laryea said. “He makes phone calls, and if someone has questions he can do some translation. I think he can really relate to a lot of our Hispanic students, helping them feel comfortable right away.”
That relatability is displayed on multiple levels. Not only can Gonzalo connect with Hispanic students through conversation and culture, several years ago he earned his citizenship and serves as a testament to other students that gaining citizenship is obtainable.
Gonzalo’s willingness to volunteer is even more impressive given a challenging barrier he faces. Getting to Goodwill requires a 15-minute walk to the training center. The trek isn’t easy. Since birth, Gonzalo has dealt with a foot deformity that makes walking long distances a challenge.
“I don’t have a car, so I have to walk all the time,” Gonzalo explained. “Sometimes I feel like my legs are hurting a little bit. It’s hard to move. The movement I do when I walk, that causes problems for my hips, and I feel a lot of pain sometimes.”
To Gonzalo, the struggle of walking to Marysville’s JTE Center and back home is a small price to pay for the reward he gains in return.
“I love helping these people,” Gonzalo said, “especially after I help them and they say, ‘Thank you.’ That is what motivates me.”
Gonzalo is hoping he can use all his volunteer experience to find a job in the future as a translator.
“I encourage other people to volunteer,” Gonzalo said. “I encourage you to come to Goodwill. Whoever is looking for a job, and they want to volunteer, I encourage them to do so.”