For Literacy Center’s Savastano, act of teaching is a ritual of life

HARLINGEN — Lorraine Savastano knows a thing or two about volunteering.

“I can relate my own story that I volunteered for the Army and I did 23 years, and then I swore I was never going to volunteer for anything again,” Savastano said.

The pledge didn’t last long once she retired and moved to La Feria in 2008.

Since then, she’s volunteered at the Literacy Center of Harlingen for most of the past seven years.

“When you retire, I didn’t want to pull out the bottle of whiskey and a book and do nothing,” she said. “I just couldn’t do that. So that’s the volunteering part for me. I have the time to do it — I make the time.”

After the Army came a job with the civil service, and she found herself in Germany working for the Child Development Center, “teaching the teachers.”

“I was just sharing with somebody today that I always wanted to be a teacher, and I think I’ll be a teacher until I die,” Savastano said. “When I was 4 years old, I used to play as a teacher. I had a little blackboard, and I just loved doing it.”

Her commitment to teaching has placed her in a position to work at the Literacy Center with students who need help with English.

Sometimes that doesn’t come easy for the native of Lawrence, Mass., who says she can’t seem to shake her New England accent.

“I try to get some of this Texan accent but it doesn’t happen,” she said, laughing.

“I tried going to Spanish classes, too, but I haven’t been able to get it right yet,” she said. “So my students teach me.”

Savastano said the international part of her career has helped when dealing with students for whom English isn’t a first language, and she has some observations about literacy needs in the Rio Grande Valley.

“I believe that the GED is one of the things I feel is needed,” she said. “I also have many students who want to get their citizenship, so that’s another thing that we do.”

With her military background, it’s not surprising that Savastano said the process her students undergo to become U.S. citizens is challenging but immensely rewarding for both student and teacher.

“I had two of them,” she said. “It’s a wonderful feeling to watch them grow and just to see the smiles on their faces, and they’re so thrilled.

“They know more about our history than Americans do, I think,” she said.

For her, teaching comes naturally. And in the final analysis, so does volunteering.

“I have friends that don’t want to volunteer,” she said. “They won’t do anything unless they get paid.

“But I get so much out of volunteering,” she said.